To determine the effects of immunomodulatory agents upon HIV replication in macrophages, cultured monocyte-derived macrophages were treated with various substances and then infected with a macrophage-tropic strain of HIV-1. Pretreatment with rIFN-alpha, IFN-beta, and IFN-gamma, or bacterial LPS prevented viral replication in macrophages. In treated cultures, little or no infectious HIV or p24 core antigen was released into the supernatant, no virions were seen by electron microscopy, no viral RNA or DNA was detectable in the cell lysates, and no cytopathology (as determined by multinucleated giant cell formation) occurred. In contrast, pretreatment with a wide dose range of recombinant IL-1 beta, IL-2, IL-4, IL-6, M-CSF, TNF, or lymphotoxin failed to protect macrophages from productive infection by HIV. A consistent effect of granulocyte/macrophage-CSF on HIV replication in macrophages was not observed. In dose response studies, pretreatment with approximately 100 U/ml of IFN-alpha, approximately 10 U/ml of IFN-beta, or approximately 100 U/ml of IFN-gamma was sufficient to prevent virion release maximally and to prevent cytopathology completely. In kinetic studies, IFN-alpha, IFN-gamma, or LPS were added to the macrophage cultures either before or after infection with HIV. Even when added 3 d after infection with a multiplicity of 1 50% tissue-culture infectious dose per cell, all three treatments markedly reduced virion release, suggesting that these agents act at a point in the viral life cycle beyond the early events of virus binding, penetration, and uncoating. These data indicate that HIV replication in previously uninfected macrophages may be regulated by an inducible host cell mechanism. These findings may explain the restricted replication of HIV in macrophages in vivo and suggest an antiviral role for interferons in the therapy of HIV infection.