This exploratory analyses characterizes patterns of lymphocyte recovery in HIV-1-infected patients treated with highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) and investigates their relationship with baseline indices and virologic responses. We modeled kinetics of total CD4+ lymphocytes, as well as naive (CD45RA+ CD62L+), and memory (CD45RA- CD45RO+) subsets in 48 patients treated with AZT/3TC/Ritonavir for 48 weeks in ACTG protocol 315. Cell kinetic indices were estimated by nonlinear regression methods and were correlated with baseline factors and virologic responses. Five different kinetic patterns were identified, including biphasic growth, growth-plateau, growth-depletion, decay-recovery, and biphasic decay. Although overall mean lymphocyte responses showed a biphasic increase in cell number, a careful investigation reveals that only one-third of patients actually followed the biphasic growth pattern in CD4+ cell response, while 44% of 48 patients from this study followed the growth-depletion pattern. CD4+ cell recovery during the first phase and the 48-week study period were negatively correlated with baseline CD4+ cell counts, and positively correlated with baseline viral load. Memory CD4+ cell recovery during the first phase was also negatively correlated with baseline memory CD4+ and total CD4+ cell number, but the recovery rate of memory CD4+ cells during the second phase was positively correlated with baseline CD4+ cell number. Patients with a decay in CD4+ cell count during treatment were more likely to have experienced virological rebound (58%) than patients with nondecay patterns (24%). The rate and magnitude of the absolute increase in total CD4+ and memory CD4+ cell number (but not naive CD4+ cells) during the second phase were lower in patients with viral rebound compared with patients with persistent viral suppression. These results show that the kinetics of lymphocyte reconstitution in response to potent antiretroviral therapy in individual patients vary considerably from the "classic" biphasic increase that characterizes the mean or median response pattern. Pattern analysis of lymphocyte kinetics may be useful for testing relationships among factors that modulate the response to treatment.