OBJECTIVE To study expression of HIV-1 in human glial cell lines. DESIGN Chronically HIV-1-infected glial cell lines were established to evade potential artefacts resulting from unphysiological viral entry (i.e., transfection). These cell lines were used to study viral expression and regulation. METHODS Chronically infected glial cell lines were established by terminal dilution cloning of human glioma cells exposed to HIV-1. Virus production and expression were assayed by measuring reverse transcriptase activity, p24-antigen levels and syncytia-inducing capacity in C8166 target cells (extracellular), or by indirect immunoperoxidase staining, immunoblot analysis, and p24- and Nef-antigen-capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (intracellular). HIV-long terminal repeat (LTR)-dependent expression of the chloramphenicol acetyltransferase reporter gene was determined in transient transfection assays. RESULTS Culture supernatant from chronically HIV-1-infected glial cells contained only low levels of virus compared with chronically HIV-infected fibroblasts and T-lymphoma cells. Detailed study of HIV-antigen expression in representative glial cell line TH4-7-5 indicated the presence of all major structural proteins, albeit at low levels, and of Vif, Tat, Rev and Nef. Intracellular levels of Nef exceeded p24-antigen levels by approximately 10-fold. Virus was recovered from TH4-7-5 cells by cocultivation with blood-derived target cells, indicating that low-level virus production is not due to defective provirus. Prominent negative regulatory element (NRE)-mediated suppression of exogenous HIV-LTR activity was observed in TH4-7-5 cells and was unequalled by chronically HIV-producing fibroblast cells or by uninfected fibroblast and glial cells. CONCLUSIONS Our results suggest that restricted virus production by chronically infected glial cells involves LTR-mediated regulation of virus expression.