Continuous replication of human immunodeficiency virus type I (HIV-1) requires balanced expression of spliced and nonspliced mRNAs in the cytoplasm. This process is regulated post-transcriptionally by the viral-encoded Rev protein. An important prerequisite for Rev responsiveness is the presence of weak splice sites in the viral mRNA. We have investigated the splicing of the second intron of the HIV-1 Tat/Rev transcript in vitro and show that the 3'-splice site region is responsible for the inefficient splicing of the HIV-1 transcript. In contrast, the HIV-1 5'-splice site is highly functional in combination with a heterologous 3'-splice site. Incubation of the HIV-1 transcript in nuclear extract leads to a rapid accumulation of 50 S nonproductive pre-spliceosome complexes. These complexes contain mainly U1 and U2 small nuclear ribonucleoproteins and are formed independently of the presence of the downstream 3'-splice site. The HIV-1 transcripts, which do proceed through the first splicing step, utilize primarily a uridine as the branch acceptor nucleotide. Sequence comparison with other HIV-1 introns suggests that nucleotides other than adenosines are commonly used as branch points in these viruses.