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Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) isolates resistant to zidovudine (ZDV) have previously been demonstrated to exhibit in vitro cross-resistance to other similar dideoxynucleoside agents which contain a 3'-azido group. However, cross-resistance to didanosine (ddI) or dideoxycytidine (ddC) has been less well documented. ZDV, ddI, and ddC susceptibility data have been collected from clinical HIV-1 isolates obtained by five clinical centers and their respective retrovirology laboratories. All subjects were treated only with ZDV. Clinical HIV-1 isolates were isolated, amplified, and assayed for drug susceptibility in standardized cultures of phytohemagglutinin-stimulated donor peripheral blood mononuclear cells obtained from healthy seronegative donors. All five cohorts showed a correlation between decreased in vitro susceptibility to ZDV and decreased susceptibility to ddI and ddC. For each 10-fold decrease in ZDV susceptibility, an average corresponding decrease of 2.2-fold in ddI susceptibility was observed (129 isolates studied; P < 0.001, Fisher's test of combined significance). Similarly, susceptibility to ddC decreased 2.0-fold for each 10-fold decrease in ZDV susceptibility (82 isolates studied; P < 0.001, Fisher's test of combined significance). These data indicate that a correlation exists between HIV-1 susceptibilities to ZDV and ddI or ddC for clinical HIV-1 isolates.