Comparison of immune responses to infection by a pathogenic or a nonpathogenic immunodeficiency virus in macaques may provide insights into pathogenetic events leading to simian AIDS. This work is aimed at exploring cytokine expression during infection by simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV). We used semiquantitative reverse transcription-PCR to monitor interleukin (IL)-2/interferon (IFN)-gamma (Th1-like), and IL-4/IL-10 (Th2-like) expression in unmanipulated peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), during the acute phase of infection of eight cynomolgus macaques (Macaca fascicularis) with a pathogenic primary isolate of SIVmac251 (full-length nef), and of four other cynomolgus macaques by an attenuated molecular clone of SIVmac251 (nef-truncated). All the monkeys became infected, as clearly shown by the presence of infected PBMCs and by seroconversion. Nevertheless, PBMC-associated virus loads and p27 antigenemia in monkeys infected by the attenuated virus clone remained lower than those observed in animals infected with the pathogenic SIVmac251 isolate. A rise of IL-10 mRNA expression occurred in both groups of monkeys coincident with the peak of viral replication. In monkeys infected with the pathogenic SIVmac251, IL-2, IL-4, and IFN-gamma mRNAs were either weakly detectable or undetectable. On the contrary, animals infected by the attenuated virus exhibited an overexpression of these cytokine mRNAs during the first weeks after inoculation. The lack of expression of these cytokines in monkeys infected with the pathogenic primary isolate may reflect early immunodeficiency.