Cells infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) show decreased expression of the 58-kilodalton T4 (CD4) antigen on their surface. In this study, the effect of HIV infection on the synthesis of T4 messenger RNA (mRNA) and protein products was evaluated in T-cell lines. Metabolically labeled lysates from the T4+ cell line Sup-T1 were immunoprecipitated with monoclonal antibodies to T4. Compared with uninfected cells, HIV-infected Sup-T1 cells showed decreased amounts of T4 that coprecipitated with both the 120-kilodalton viral envelope and the 150-kilodalton envelope precursor molecules. In four of five HIV-producing T-cell lines studied, the steady-state levels of T4 mRNA were also reduced. Thus, the decreased T4 antigen on HIV-infected cells is due to at least three factors: reduced steady-state levels of T4-specific mRNA, reduced amounts of immunoprecipitable T4 antigen, and the complexing of available T4 antigen with viral envelope gene products. The data suggested that the T4 protein produced after infection may be complexed with viral envelope gene products within infected cells. Retroviral envelope-receptor complexes may thus participate in a general mechanism by which receptors for retroviruses are down-modulated and alterations in cellular function develop after infection.