Drug-resistant variants of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) have been isolated by in vitro selection. MT-4 cells were infected with either a laboratory strain (HIV-IIIB) or a clinical isolate (no. 187) of HIV-1 and maintained in medium containing subeffective concentrations of the drugs 3'-azido-3'-deoxythymidine (AZT) and 2',3'-dideoxyinosine (ddI). By gradually increasing the drug concentration in the culture medium during propagation of the virus on fresh MT-4 cells, we were able to isolate variants of HIV-IIIB and clinical isolate 187 which showed up to 100-fold increases in resistance to the drugs. The drug resistance phenotypes remained stable after propagation of the variants in the absence of drug pressure for over 2 months. However, variants resistant to one drug showed little or no cross-resistance to the other, suggesting that the genetic bases for resistance to the compounds differed. Genotypic analysis of these nucleoside-resistant variants by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) with primer pairs previously shown to correspond to mutations responsible for resistance to AZT was also carried out. A heterogeneity of genotypes was observed, with known mutations at pol codons 70 and 215 occurring in most of the AZT-resistant variants generated from either HIV-IIIB or clinical strain 187. However, mutations in codons 67 and 219 were less frequently detected, and none of these changes were observed in each of four variants resistant to ddI. Cloning and sequencing studies of the reverse transcriptase coding region of two of the isolates were also performed and confirmed the PCR data that had been obtained. In addition to previously described mutation sites responsible for resistance to AZT, an HIV-IIIB-resistant variant was shown to be mutated at positions 108 (Val----Ala) and 135 (Ile----Thr), while a resistant variant of strain 187 was mutated at positions 50 (Ile----Val) and 135 (Ile----Val).