Recent thymic emigrants can be identified by T cell receptor excision circles (TRECs) formed during T-cell receptor rearrangement. Decreasing numbers of TRECs have been observed with aging and in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-1 infected individuals, suggesting thymic impairment. Here, we show that in healthy individuals, declining thymic output will affect the TREC content only when accompanied by naive T-cell division. The rapid decline in TRECs observed during HIV-1 infection and the increase following HAART are better explained not by thymic impairment, but by changes in peripheral T-cell division rates. Our data indicate that TREC content in healthy individuals is only indirectly related to thymic output, and in HIV-1 infection is mainly affected by immune activation.