The alveolar macrophage (AM), as a representative human tissue macrophage, was used in an in vitro system to examine the anti-human immunodeficiency virus type-1 (HIV-1) activity of zidovudine (AZT) and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF). AMs were infected with the IIIB strain of HIV-1 and exposed to AZT (1 mumol/L), GM-CSF (30 U/mL), a combination of AZT (1 mumol/L)/GM-CSF (30 U/mL), or medium control. At 10 or 20 days post-infection, phytohemagglutinin (PHA)-stimulated peripheral blood mononuclear leukocytes (PBMLs) were added to the AM cultures as stimulated target cells. AZT effectively suppressed HIV replication and prevented transfer/amplification in target PBMLs as long as the drug was maintained in the medium. GM-CSF neither suppressed nor augmented HIV replication. The combination of AZT/GM-CSF was comparable with AZT alone in suppressing both the initial infection of AMs and the transfer to target PBMLs as long as the agents were maintained in the cultures. However, when the drugs were removed at the same time that PHA-stimulated PBMLs were added to the culture, the combination of AZT/GM-CSF was found to be more effective than AZT alone in preventing the transfer/amplification of HIV in the target lymphocytes. These results suggest that (1) AZT is effective in inhibiting HIV-1 infection in mononuclear phagocytes; (2) GM-CSF neither inhibits nor augments the replication of the IIIB strain of HIV in human AMs; and (3) the combination of AZT and GM-CSF may have an enhanced anti-HIV-1 activity compared with AZT alone. Clinical trials with the two agents in combination appear warranted.