Peripheral blood monocytes are resistant to productive human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infection in vitro immediately after isolation. No viral cDNA (either early or late transcripts) was detected by PCR in monocytes exposed to virus on the day of isolation. In contrast, in monocytes cultured for as little as 1 day, initiated and completed reverse transcripts were readily detectable within 24 h of infection with both HIV-1(Ba-L) and primary isolates. The levels of initiated, partially completed, and completed viral DNA copies found 24 h after infection increased progressively with time in culture before infection. Unlike quiescent T lymphocytes, there appeared to be no block or delay in the integration of viral DNA into the genome of susceptible cultured monocytes. With an Alu-PCR method designed to specifically detect proviral DNA being used, integration events were found within 24 h of infection in monocytes cultured for a day or more after isolation. No integration signal was found in freshly isolated monocytes up to 7 days following exposure to the virus. Cloning and sequencing of Alu-PCR-amplified DNA confirmed integration in HIV-1-infected cultured monocytes. Our finding that in vitro replication of HIV-1 is clearly blocked prior to the initiation of reverse transcription in freshly isolated peripheral blood monocytes suggests that these cells may not be susceptible to infection in vivo. Further studies to clarify this possibility and the nature of the block to infection should provide useful information for treatment strategies against HIV-1.