CD8+ cells from healthy HIV-infected individuals can suppress HIV replication in infected CD4(+) cells without killing the cells. This CD8+ cell noncytotoxic antiviral response (CNAR), observed by coculture of CD8+ cells with infected CD4+ cells, is associated with secretion of a CD8+ cell antiviral factor (CAF). In attempts to identify CAF, we discovered that certain protease inhibitors, particularly leupeptin, can block, by up to 95%, the anti-HIV activity in CD8+ cell culture fluids as well as inhibit CNAR. The effect is dose-dependent and is observed in up to 70% of the CAF and CNAR assays by using fluids and cells from several different subjects. Pretreatment of CD8+ cells with leupeptin reduces CNAR, further supporting an inhibitory effect on a CD8+ cell product. This inhibitory activity of protease inhibitors does not affect cell growth, expression of activation antigens, or viability of either CD8+ cells or the infected CD4+ cells. The results suggest that a part of the CD8+ cell noncytotoxic response involves the activity of a protease or a protein that interacts with protease inhibitors. Proteolysis of a CD8+ cell product(s) may be involved. This observation offers a promising approach for identifying the mechanism of CNARCAF activity.