As a model system to study the infection of early myeloid cells by human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1), we have infected the human promyelocytic cell line, HL-60, with a recombinant selectable HIV-1 clone. A fully infected population showed a relatively high frequency of low-level infection, with 40% of subcloned cells being negative by reverse transcriptase and p24 indirect immunofluorescence analysis and displaying only low levels of supernatant p24. The same treatment of a T-lymphoid cell line produced 100% productive infections. HIV-1 infection of HL-60 did not appear to alter the state of differentiation of the cells, as assessed by surface antigen expression, regardless of the level of viral expression. Furthermore, infected cells were able to respond normally to chemical inducers of differentiation. Induction of differentiation towards monocyte/macrophages by phorbol myristate acetate activated the HIV-1 long terminal repeat in a transient transfection system, and there was a corresponding increase in viral production from the infected subclones. Granulocytic differentiation, as stimulated by dimethyl sulfoxide or retinoic acid, had no effect on long terminal repeat activity and did not stimulate viral replication. These data suggest that low-level HIV-1 infections may be established at a relatively high frequency in myeloid precursor cells, and that different pathways of promyelocytic differentiation vary in their ability to stimulate HIV-1 replication.