Cells with properties characteristic of mononuclear phagocytes were evaluated for infectivity with five different isolates of the AIDS virus, HTLV-III/LAV. Mononuclear phagocytes cultured from brain and lung tissues of AIDS patients harbored the virus. In vitro-infected macrophages from the peripheral blood, bone marrow, or cord blood of healthy donors produced large quantities of virus. Virus production persisted for at least 40 days and was not dependent on host cell proliferation. Giant multinucleated cells were frequently observed in the macrophage cultures and numerous virus particles, often located within vacuole-like structures, were present in infected cells. The different virus isolates were compared for their ability to infect macrophages and T cells. Isolates from lung- and brain-derived macrophages had a significantly higher ability to infect macrophages than T cells. In contrast, the prototype HTLV-III beta showed a 10,000-fold lower ability to infect macrophages than T cells and virus production was one-tenth that in macrophage cultures infected with other isolates, indicating that a particular variant of HTLV-III/LAV may have a preferential tropism for macrophages or T cells. These results suggest that mononuclear phagocytes may serve as primary targets for infection and agents for virus dissemination and that these virus-infected cells may play a role in the pathogenesis of the disease.

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