CD4(+) T lymphocytes are the primary cell target for human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1), and these cells are known to express opioid receptors. Due to the need for new treatment approaches to HIV-1 infection, we sought to determine whether the non-selective opioid receptor antagonist naltrexone would affect HIV-1 expression in CD4(+) lymphocyte cultures and whether naltrexone would alter the antiviral properties of zidovudine (AZT) or indinavir. Activated CD4(+) lymphocytes were infected with a monocytotropic or T-cell tropic HIV-1 isolate, and p24 antigen levels were measured in supernatants of drug-treated or untreated (control) cultures. While naltrexone alone did not affect HIV-1 expression, at a concentration of 10(-12)-10(-10) M naltrexone increased the antiviral activity of AZT and indinavir 2-3-fold. Similar findings with a kappa-opioid receptor (KOR) selective antagonist supported the possible involvement of KOR in naltrexone's potentiation of the antiretroviral drugs. The results of this in vitro study suggest that treatment of alcohol or opiate dependent HIV-1-infected patients with naltrexone is unlikely to interfere with the activity of antiretroviral drugs. Also, based upon naltrexone's safety profile and its synergistic activity in vitro, these findings suggest clinical trials should be considered of naltrexone as an adjunctive therapy of HIV-1 infection.