A large number of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) specific HLA-restricted cytotoxic T cell (CTL) epitopes have been mapped, including an HLA-B27-restricted immunodominant epitope within p25gag. Accordingly, this segment of the HIV-1 provirus was amplified by the polymerase chain reaction from DNA derived from fresh uncultured peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) of four HLA-B27 HIV-1-infected individuals. In all cases the majority of infected PBMC bore sequences encoding the HLA-B27-restricted peptide. CTL escape mutants had not accumulated in vivo 8 and 14 months later despite demonstrable CTL activity in vitro. These data emphasize the importance of silently infected lymphocytes in evading immune surveillance.