The neutralizing activity of anti-V3 monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) and anti-HIV-1 immune sera was tested against HIV-1 laboratory strains and African primary isolates. Neutralization was investigated in Phytohaemagglutinin (PHA)-stimulated peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) cultures by means of two distinct viral titer reduction assays. In these assays, virus was detected by means of either p24 antigen measurement using ELISA or HIV provirus synthesis using PCR, respectively. Anti-V3 MAbs and anti-HIV-1 immune sera neutralized efficiently the homologous laboratory HIV-1 strains used for eliciting immune response but showed no neutralizing activity against most primary isolates. The two neutralization assays used provided similar results. However, a PCR-based assay circumvented the limitations due to low levels of virus replication. The mechanism of resistance of the primary isolates to neutralizing antibodies was complex and was not simply predicted by partial sequence determination of the epitopes. This points out the need for reliable neutralization assays of HIV-1 primary isolates in order to evaluate the role of humoral immunity during HIV-1 infection and for future vaccine strategies.