The order of appearance in the reverse transcriptase gene of four mutations implicated in the development of resistance to zidovudine was investigated by selective polymerase chain reaction. Serial human immunodeficiency virus isolates were studied from 18 initially asymptomatic individuals who had been treated with zidovudine for 2 years. Most subjects had similar patterns. The first mutation occurred transiently at codon 70; its disappearance was paralleled by the appearance of a mutation at codon 215. Subsequently, in some individuals, the mutation at codon 70 reappeared. During the 2 years of treatment, no mutations developed at codon 219 and only one at codon 67, suggesting that most individuals developed only partly resistant virus. This was confirmed by plaque-reduction assay. Six subjects progressed to AIDS within the 2-year study period, confirming that the development of highly resistant isolates is not required for progression in treated individuals. No clear temporal relationship was found between the development of partial resistance and progression.