The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is neuroinvasive and commonly causes cognitive and motor deficits during the later stages of viral infection. (referred to as HIV dementia). The mechanism(s) for disease revolves around secretory products produced from immune-activated brain macrophages/microglia. Recently, we developed an animal model system for HIV dementia that contains xenografts of HIV-1-infected cells inoculated into brains of mice with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). This animal system was used to quantitatively evaluate HIV-induced neuropathology. Xenografts of HIV-1-infected human monocytes (placed into the putamen and cortex of SCID mice) remained viable for 5 weeks. HIV-1 p24 antigen expression in mouse brain was persistent. Progressive inflammatory responses (including astrogliosis and cytokine production), which began at 3 days, peaked at day 12. The range of astrocyte proliferative reactions exceeded the inoculation site by > 1000 microns. Brains with virus-infected monocytes showed a > or = 1.6-fold increase in glial fibrillary acidic protein (staining distribution and intensity) as compared with similarly inoculated brains with uninfected control monocytes. These findings paralleled the accumulation and activation of murine microglia (increased branching of cell processes, formation of microglial nodules, interleukin (IL)-1 beta and IL-6 expression). An inflammatory reaction of human monocytes (as defined by HLA-DR, IL-1 beta, IL-6, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha expression) and neuronal injury (apoptosis) also developed after virus-infected monocyte xenograft placement into mouse brain tissue. These data, taken together, demonstrate that this SCID mouse model of HIV-1 neuropathogenesis can reproduce key aspects of disease (virus-infected macrophages, astrocytosis, microglial activation, and neuronal damage). This model may serve as an important means for therapeutic development directed toward improving mental function in HIV-infected subjects with cognitive and motor dysfunction.