Four Epstein-Barr virus-positive lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCL) were successfully infected in vitro with immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) as demonstrated by reverse transcriptase activity and p24 HIV antigen in culture supernatants, positive cell staining for gag-encoded HIV proteins, presence of viral HIV genome by Southern blot analysis and ulstrastructural observations. In addition, both HIV-1-infected B cells and their supernatants efficiently transactivated the chloramphenicol acetyl transferase reporter gene which is under the control of the HIV-1 long terminal repeat. The LCL cells displayed long-term HIV-1 infection and production, but no cytopathic effects were observed. Cytofluorimetric analysis did not detect membrane CD4 presence in the LCL cells before and after HIV-1 infection; moreover, a minute amount of CD4 mRNA was observed only in one of the LCL. A monoclonal antibody specific for the viral binding site of the CD4 molecule delayed, but did not block, HIV-1 infection of the LCL cells. Following HIV-1 infection, changes in LCL phenotype were observed, consisting of a decrease in CD23- and CD39-positive cells, and a concomitant increase of cells with surface CD10 and Bac-1. Furthermore, HIV-1-infected LCL cells did not grow in tight clumps, as usually observed in uninfected LCL, but as disperse suspensions, and formed more agar colonies than control LCL. However, despite this apparent acquisition of a malignant-like phenotype, c-myc proto-oncogene rearrangement was not detected. The appearance of cells with new characteristics did not seem due to clone selection by HIV-1 infection, since all the LCL conserved their clonotypic pattern of IgH chain rearrangement. The acquisition of malignant-like features by HIV-infected B cells might be clinically significant in terms of the pathogenesis of non-Hodgkin's B cell lymphomas, which occur frequently in AIDS patients.