Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) disease in sub-Saharan Africa generally differs from that observed in the United States and other developed countries in that the risk of seroconversion after exposure is greater and the rate of disease progression to AIDS and death is faster. One theory that could in part explain this difference is the increased state of immune activation associated with a relatively high rate of parasite infestation and other infections among inhabitants of these regions. Using a model based on the cellular microenvironment of lymphoid organs, the role of exposure to HIV during a state of antigen-specific immune activation was investigated. Dendritic cells and CD4+ T cells are the major cellular components of the paracortical region of lymphoid tissue, the primary site of HIV replication. We analyzed cocultures of HIV-pulsed dendritic cells that had matured in the presence of tetanus toxoid and CD4+ T cells before and after inducing an antigen-specific response by in vivo immunization with tetanus toxoid. During antigen-specific immune activation, 100 times less HIV was needed to initiate a productive infection. These findings provide a model system to further delineate the relationship between immune activation and the propagation of HIV infection and suggest a mechanism for the epidemiologic observations of an increased ease of developing HIV infection and faster progression for HIV disease in geographic areas where immune activation is prevalent.