The mechanisms by which HIV-1 infection kills T lymphocytes are not clearly established. Apoptosis is an internally programmed cell death pathway that may regulate both T cell development and senescence, and that is characterized by cleavage of DNA at internucleosomal regions. The present experiments show that acute HIV-1 infection of MT2 lymphoblasts and activated normal peripheral blood mononuclear cells induces apoptosis. The addition of anti-gp120 neutralizing antibody, after HIV-1 infection of MT2 cells, permitted sustained high levels of viral replication, but blocked apoptosis and cell death. Apoptosis may account for the direct cytopathologic effects of HIV-1 in T cells.