To characterize the host range of different strains of HIV-1, we have used four types of cells, primary monocyte-derived macrophages (MDM), primary PBL, a promonocyte cell line (U937), and a CD4+ T cell line (SUP-T1). These cells were infected with three prototype strains of HIV-1, a putative lymphocyte-tropic strain (IIIB), and two putative monocyte-tropic strains (SF162 and DV). Infections were monitored by assays for infectious virus, for cell-free and cell-associated viral antigen (p24), and for the proportion of cells infected by immunohistochemical staining. It was concluded that: (a) the use of four different cell types provides a useful biological matrix for distinguishing the tropism of different strains of HIV-1; this matrix yields more information than the infection of any single cell type. (b) A monocyte-tropic strain of HIV-1, such as strain SF162, shows a reciprocal host range when compared with a lymphocyte-tropic strain such as IIIB; strain SF162 replicates well in primary MDM but not in U937 or SUP-T1 cells, while strain IIIB replicates well in both U937 and SUP-T1 cells but not in MDM. (c) Both lymphocyte-tropic and monocyte-tropic strains of HIV-1 replicate well in PBL. (d) The promonocyte cell line, U937, and the T cell line, SUP-T1, differ markedly from primary cells, such as MDM and PBL, in their ability to support the replication of different strains of HIV-1; these cell lines cannot be used as surrogates for primary cells in host range studies of HIV-1 strains.