Cell lines stably releasing noninfectious virus-like particles containing wild type or mutant gene products represent useful tools for a biochemical, immunological, and structural analysis of virus assembly. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) type 1 gag and env gene products were transiently and stably expressed in mammalian cells and the formation of virus-like particles incorporating viral glycoproteins was analyzed. Transient cotransfection of plasmids directing the synthesis of gag and env gene products yielded efficient release of particles but specific incorporation of HIV glycoproteins was not detected. A stable cell line expressing wild type HIV-1 glycoproteins was generated and transient transfection of this cell line with gag-encoding constructs led to the release of virus-like particles incorporating HIV surface and transmembrane glycoproteins. Attempts to establish stable cell lines expressing wild type HIV gag and pol genes were unsuccessful and only highly unstable lines primarily expressing uncleaved precursor polyproteins were obtained. This result appears to be caused by the cytotoxic effects of the viral proteinase since stable lines were readily selected after transfection of constructs either encoding an inactive mutant of the proteinase or a mutated frameshift signal which prevented expression of the pol reading frame. Stable coexpression of uncleaved Gag polyprotein and wild type env gene products yielded efficient release of immature virus-like particles incorporating HIV glycoproteins. Electron micrographs revealed lentiviral budding structures with the typical surface projections of viral glycoprotein oligomers.