The effect of human interferon-alpha (Hu-IFN-alpha) on the maturation process of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) has been studied using stable cell lines that produce nonenveloped particles. These cell lines secrete particles devoid of the viral envelope proteins gp120 and gp41. The CH-1 cells produce active viral protease that correctly processes its natural substrates, whereas the CH-1kww cell line expresses an enzymatically inactive viral protease, thus producing immature viral capsids. A block in the secretion of particles was observed in both cell lines when treated with 100-1000 U/ml Hu-IFN-alpha, as judged by measurements of encapsidated gag proteins. Electron microscopy shows that Hu-IFN-alpha-treated CH-1 cells are decorated with assembled immature particles at the cell surface. These results suggest that the observed block in particle release on Hu-IFN-alpha treatment is independent of viral envelope expression and occurs before capsid polyprotein processing. In addition, particles remaining attached to the cell fail to mature into structures with condensed cores. Viral gag proteins from IFN-treated and untreated CH-1 cells were analyzed by 2-D gel electrophoresis. Results suggest a change in posttranslational modifications of gag proteins, as IFN treatment allowed the detection of more basic forms of p55, p39, and p24. Further analysis of cellular or viral protein alterations induced by Hu-IFN-alpha treatment may identify the mechanism of action by which particle maturation is obstructed.