The regulation of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 infection and replication in primary monocytes was investigated by mutagenesis of recombinant proviral clones containing an env determinant required for the infectivity of monocytes. Virus replication was assayed by determination of reverse transcriptase activity in culture fluids and by recovery of virus from monocytes following cocultivation with uninfected peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Three virus replication phenotypes were observed in monocytes: productive infection, silent infection, and no infection. Incorporation of the monocytetropic env determinant in a full-length clone incapable of infection or replication in primary monocytes (no infection) conferred the capacity for highly efficient virus replication in monocytes (productive infection). Clones with the env determinant but lacking either functional vpr or vpu genes generated lower replication levels in monocytes. Mutation of both vpr and vpu, however, resulted in nearly complete attenuation of virus replication in monocytes, despite subsequent virus recovery from infected monocytes by cocultivation with uninfected peripheral blood mononuclear cells (silent infection). These findings indicate a central role for the 'accessory' genes vpu and vpr in productive human immunodeficiency virus type 1 replication in monocytes and indicate that vpu and vpr may be capable of functional complementation.