To investigate the role of apoptosis in the pathogenesis of HIV infection we used macaques infected with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) as a primate model and examined the characteristics of the apoptosis of lymphocytes in SIV mac-infected macaques. In vitro apoptosis was more strongly induced in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from SIV mac239-infected macaques than those from uninfected controls. We found that the frequency of Fas antigen-positive cells was higher in PBMC from SIV mac-infected macaques than from uninfected controls, and in vitro apoptosis of PBMC was suppressed by an inhibitor of the interleukin-1 beta converting enzyme (ICE) family proteases. In biopsied lymph nodes, the number of apoptotic nuclei in T cell-dependent areas was higher in SIV mac-infected macaques than in uninfected controls. A higher number of apoptotic nuclei in lymph nodes of SIV mac-infected macaques was observed in the stage of persistent general lymphadenopathy than in those with AIDS-related complex, while there was no significant difference in the extent of apoptosis of cultured PBMC among the SIV mac-infected macaques. These results suggest that in vitro apoptosis is mediated by the Fas/Fas ligand and ICE system and that apoptosis in lymph nodes may be more closely related to the stage of SIV mac infection than is that of cultured PBMC.