High levels of unintegrated viral DNA accumulate during human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infection of CEM T cells. Reinfection of already infected cells is required to attain these levels and reinfection also promotes the development of HIV-induced cytopathology. Rates of virus production, however, are independent of the accumulation of unintegrated viral DNA. Neutralizing antibody added soon after infection reduced viral DNA levels without appreciably affecting the production of cell-free viral p24 antigen or reverse transcriptase activity. Only 50 pM AZT were required to reduce the accumulation of unintegrated viral DNA by 50% in contrast to the 25 nM required to inhibit virus production by 50%. Cytopathology, as measured by number of syncytia in infected cell cultures, was correlated with highly elevated levels of unintegrated viral DNA. The minimal levels of unintegrated viral DNA present constitutively in the persistently infected HCEM cell line were consonant with the absence of cytopathic effects in these cells. These data demonstrate that inhibiting the reinfection of already infected cells modulates cytopathic HIV-1 infection to a form that is persistent and noncytopathic.

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