Studies of cultivatable human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) from plasma samples from infected patients have shown a correspondence between increasing viral burden and disease progression, but these measurements are selective and thus nonrepresentative of the in vivo viral load. Quantitation of proviral DNA sequences by the polymerase chain reaction in purified CD4+ T cells has shown a similar relationship but does not provide a measure of viral gene expression. We have studied viral DNA, genomic RNA, and spliced mRNA expression of HIV-1 in infected patients with a quantitative polymerase chain reaction assay. Viral RNA expression is detected in all stages of infection. These data show that the natural history of HIV infection is associated with a shift in the balance of viral expression favoring the production of genomic RNA without a preceding period of true viral latency.