The effects of AZT treatment on the numbers, level of infection and function of peripheral blood dendritic cells (DC) were examined in patients with HIV infection. This was a cross-sectional study of patients before AZT treatment and up to 20 months after initiation of treatment. Numbers of DC separated by density gradients were below the normal range in patients before treatment, but increased between 3 and 12 months of treatment. The numbers of DC per provirus copy rose from around 100 cells to 5000 cells and this decrease in viral load in DC was significant between 3 and 20 months of treatment. The capacity of DC to stimulate allogeneic T cell proliferation was low before treatment and significantly higher between 6 and 12 months after the start of AZT. This study indicated that AZT treatment produced beneficial effects on DC by increasing their numbers, reducing the provirus load and increasing their function in stimulating T cells. These results support the thesis that the function of these potent antigen-presenting cells is important in development of immunological defects in AIDS, and that effects of AZT treatment on DC may provide a measure of its therapeutic effect.