We examined the relationship between env sequence variation and disease progression in 10 human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1)-seropositive subjects selected from a longitudinal cohort receiving zidovudine therapy. Five subjects were chosen for stable clinical status and CD4 counts (slow progressors), and five were selected for rapid clinical deterioration and CD4 count decline (rapid progressors). The slow progressors had significantly lower plasma viral RNA loads and greater lymphoproliferative responses to mitogens than the rapid progressors. DNA sequences representing the C1 through C3 regions of env were amplified from two peripheral blood mononuclear cell DNA samples from each subject separated by an average of 2.5 years. Molecular clones of these amplicons were then sequenced, and DNA sequence and deduced amino acid sequence distances were compared. Inter-time point sequence comparison showed a higher rate of sequence evolution for the rapid progressors in three of five matched pairs of rapid progressors and slow progressors and for the slow progressors in the remaining two subject pairs. However, intra-time point sequence comparisons showed that four of five slow progressors developed a more diverse quasispecies over time and one showed no change. In contrast, four of five rapid progressors showed no change in quasispecies diversity over time and one showed a significant decrease in diversity. The overall C1 through C3 region quasispecies diversity in the slow progressors at baseline was lower than that for the rapid progressors, but this difference was not significant at the follow-up time points. These diversity relationships were obscured if sequence analyses were limited to the 300-bp C2 to V3 region. Thus, HIV-1 quasispecies diversity increased over time in subjects with more functional immune systems.