The endosomal sorting complex required for transport-III (ESCRT-III) proteins are essential for budding of some enveloped viruses, for the formation of intraluminal vesicles at the endosome and for the abscission step of cytokinesis. ESCRT-III proteins form polymers that constrict membrane tubes, leading to fission. We have used electron cryomicroscopy to determine the molecular organization of pleiomorphic ESCRT-III CHMP2A–CHMP3 polymers. The three-dimensional reconstruction at 22 Å resolution reveals a helical organization of filaments of CHMP molecules organized in a head-to-tail fashion. Protease susceptibility experiments indicate that polymerization is achieved via conformational changes that increase the protomer stability. Combinatorial siRNA knockdown experiments indicate that CHMP3 contributes synergistically to HIV-1budding, and the CHMP3 contribution is ∼ 10-fold more pronounced in concert with CHMP2A than with CHMP2B. This is consistent with surface plasmon resonance affinity measurements that suggest sequential CHMP4B–CHMP3–CHMP2A recruitment while showing that both CHMP2A and CHMP2B interact with CHMP4B, in agreement with their redundant functions in HIV-1 budding. Our data thus indicate that the CHMP2A–CHMP3 polymer observed in vitro contributes to HIV-1 budding by assembling on CHMP4B polymers.