We have addressed the capacity of HIV-1 infection to alter the growth of primary CD4+ T cells, but at the clonal level. Single T cells were expanded in the presence of PHA, IL-2, and small numbers of accessory dendritic cells. We report two new findings. First, T cells from seropositive individuals, even those with AIDS and markedly reduced CD4+ counts, exhibit a normal cloning efficiency, and proliferative capacity. This result is in contrast to two prior reports of a low cloning efficiency in CD4+ T cells from HIV-1-infected patients. Second, when we added high doses of exogenous HIV-1 to T cell clones from control subjects, we observed infection but not cytotoxicity or loss of CD4+ cells, following addition of virus stocks at days 0, 3, and/or 7 of clonal growth. The same HIV-1 isolates markedly reduced CD4+ T cells in bulk mononuclear cultures. When tested at day 11, HIV-1 mRNA was expressed in some cells of exogenously infected clones by in situ hybridization; when tested at day 18, several clones could transactivate a TAT-sensitive cell line. These findings suggest that the loss of CD4+ T cells in infected individuals is not the inevitable result of the activation of latent infection, or spread of a productive infection, during clonal growth.