Virologic and immunologic studies were performed on five patients presenting with primary human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infection. CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) precursors specific for cells expressing antigens of HIV-1 Gag, Pol, and Env were detected at or within 3 weeks of presentation in four of the five patients and were detected in all five patients by 3 to 6 months after presentation. The one patient with an absent initial CTL response had prolonged symptoms, persistent viremia, and low CD4+ T-cell count. Neutralizing antibody activity was absent at the time of presentation in all five patients. These findings suggest that cellular immunity is involved in the initial control of virus replication in primary HIV-1 infection and indicate a role for CTL in protective immunity to HIV-1 in vivo.