Long-term human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infection of the human monocytic cell line U937 resulted in a progressive loss of infectivity that was correlated with the accumulation of stable, extrachromosomal forms of viral DNA. Viral latency was also characterized by reduced levels of HIV-1 transcription. The structure and activity of extrachromosomal viral DNA (E-DNA) in a fully latent U937 cell line was investigated by molecular cloning and DNA transfection. The resulting 18-kb E-DNA clone was composed of an intact HIV-1 sequence flanked by 7 kb of host sequence to one side and 1 kb of host DNA to the other side. This configuration is the result of retroviral integration into a highly repetitive element of the Alu family. Transfection of the E-DNA clone resulted in the production of infectious virus, indicating that viral latency was not the result of mutations in the HIV-1 genome. Analysis of CCGG sites revealed extensive de novo methylation of viral sequences present within E-DNA. These results suggest that modification of extrachromosomal viral DNA sequences is a mechanism for HIV-1 latency in long-term infected U937 cells.