The internalization of CD4, a T cell differentiation antigen and the receptor for the human immunodeficiency viruses (HIV-1 and -2), has been examined in HeLa and murine 3T3 cells transfected with CD4 cDNA. Fab' fragments of the anti-CD4 monoclonal antibody Leu3a were generated by pepsin digestion and used as a specific monovalent, non-crosslinking ligand for CD4. These Fab' fragments were shown to bind to CD4 on the transfected cells with an affinity similar to that of HIV gp120, and inhibited HIV infection of lymphocytic cells. The Fab' fragments were radioiodinated and used in an acid-stripping endocytosis assay to demonstrate that the CD4 expressed on transfected HeLa and NIH3T3 cells was internalized. Approximately 1.5-2% of the total cell-bound [125I]Fab' fragments were internalized per minute. Furthermore, the internalized [125I]Fab' fragments could be shown to recycle to the cell surface. After 30-60 min a steady state was reached between internalization and recycling, with approximately 30-40% of the total cellular CD4 pool residing inside the cell. Similar results were obtained in studies with the intact divalent radiolabelled Leu3a antibody. These data demonstrate that CD4 expressed on transfected non-lymphoid cells is constitutively endocytosed and recycled.