The genetic heterogeneity and transcription activity of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) LTR region and tat gene have been examined. Comparison involved the relevant genomic regions of viruses isolated from twenty long-term survivors and from ten typical progressors. No significant differences were observed in mutation frequencies among the two groups, although there was a significant higher proportion of synonymous substitutions in the tat gene of viruses from typical progressors. Four LTR sequences showed an insertion of 20-31 residues at the junction between the LTR Nef-coding and the LTR noncoding region. Neither these insertions nor other genetic changes found in these sequences affected the LTR transcription function, as measured in transient expression assays using transfection of both established cell lines and peripheral blood lymphocytes with plasmid DNA. The results did not allow the association of structural or functional alterations in LTR or tat with a degree of disease progression. The results reinforce the concepts of complexity of HIV-1 evolution in infected individuals, and the multifactorial nature of progression to AIDS.