Numerous studies have suggested that there are significant differences in replication capacities and cytopathicities among human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) isolates and that these differences correlate with the clinical status and geographical origin of infected individuals. However, it has been difficult to assess whether reported distinctions could be attributed to the methods used or whether they imply a true disparity between viral isolates. We thus attempted to characterize the replication properties of HIV-1 isolates directly recovered from infected patients (primary isolates) by using a standardized infection assay. Viruses were isolated from patients' peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) by a single coculture with normal donor PBMC stimulated with phytohemagglutinin. Replication curves and cytopathic effect of a standard inoculum (1 ng of p24) of 66 primary HIV-1 isolates were similar regardless of clinical stage of the patient (asymptomatic, AIDS-related complex, or AIDS) and evolutive feature (rate of progression to AIDS). There was no difference between viruses derived from patients sensitive to zidovudine and those derived from patients resistant to zidovudine. Moreover, no difference was found among viral isolates of different geographical origins (Central Africa, Zaire, Brazil, or France). Similarly, the replication patterns and cytopathicities of isolates from bronchoalveolar lymphocytes did not differ from those of isolates derived from PBMC. In contrast, the same amount of viral inoculum of five laboratory HIV-1 strains (HIV-1, EL1, SF, MN, and RF) produced different replication curves and were much less cytopathic. In contrast to laboratory viral strains, it appears that the primary HIV-1 isolates tested, whatever their clinical status and source, exhibited similar replication capacities and cytopathicities in allogeneic donor PBMC.