Human foamy virus can establish persistent infections in human hematopoietic cell lines, such as H92.1.7 (erythroblastoid cells), Jurkat (CD4+ T cells), and U937 (myeloid-monocytic cells). The infection is characterized by constant production of infectious viruses (for > 2 1/2 years) with no cytopathic effects on the host cells. Electron microscopy of the infected cells showed a viral morphology similar to that observed for particles produced after acute infection. We have detected, in addition to the full-length form of bel1, a previously described deletion in the bel1 gene of the proviral DNA in these cells. RNA containing this 301-bp deletion, which mapped to the splice donor and acceptor sites of the intron of the bet gene, was also found in encapsidated virion RNA. However, the presence of this defective provirus harboring the deletion in bel1 does not prevent productive persistence in these chronically infected cells, since the virus titer does not decrease during cultivation.