We have studied the presence and significance of retroviral genome-derived DNA in the core of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) particles produced from transfections of HXB2 expression vectors in COS-7 cells and from HIV type 1 IIIB chronically infected H9 cells. Viruses purified by sucrose cushion centrifugation and treated with DNase I contained 1000-fold more viral RNA than DNA. However, protease-defective viruses that contained only p160gag-pol had less than 100 times the amount of DNA in their cores than wild-type viruses suggesting that the p66/p51 form of reverse transcriptase was responsible for DNA transcription. Viruses produced by transfections in the presence of 3'-azido-3'-deoxythymidine (AZT) contained the viral RNA genome but only DNA of premature length because of the chain terminating effects of AZT. However such viruses were as infections for CD4+ cells as wild-type virus. We conclude that retrovirus-derived DNA in HIV-1 particles is not required for infection and does not play a significant role in this process.