Virus derived from the infectious, pathogenic, molecular clone of simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) called SIVmac239 replicates poorly in primary rhesus monkey alveolar macrophage cultures. Variants with three to nine amino acid changes in the envelope replicate 100 to 1,000 times more efficiently in these macrophage cultures than parental SIVmac239. Early events, including virus entry into cells, were analyzed by measuring the amounts of newly synthesized viral DNA 14 to 16 h after infection of macrophages by using a quantitative polymerase chain reaction method. SIVmac239 ws found to enter macrophages with an efficiency similar to that of the macrophage-tropic derivatives. The assay indeed measured newly synthesized viral DNA since detection was inhibited by the reverse transcriptase inhibitors azidothymidine and foscarnet and by heat inactivation of the virus stock prior to infection. Furthermore, entry of SIVmac239 and macrophage-tropic variant into macrophages was inhibited by monoclonal antibody against CD4. Analysis of the time course of viral DNA accumulation showed that although initial entry of SIVmac239 into cells occurred normally, subsequent logarithmic increases in the amounts of viral DNA associated with spread of virus through the macrophage cultures was blocked. Increasing the amount of SIVmac239 incubated with macrophages increased the amount of virus entering the cell, but this could not overcome the block to replication. Thus, restricted replication of SIVmac239 in macrophages is determined by the envelope, but surprisingly it is not due to restricted virus entry.