We have used envelope recombinant viruses generated between two molecular clones of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1), T-cell-tropic HIV-1SF2 and macrophage-tropic HIV-1SF162, to assess pathogenic potential in the human peripheral blood leukocyte-reconstituted severe combined immune deficiency mouse model. Recombinant HIV-1SF2 viruses expressing the envelope gp120 gene of HIV-ISF162 caused as rapid a CD4+ T-cell depletion as did HIV-1SF162. The reciprocal HIV-1SF162 recombinant virus with the HIV-1SF2 envelope caused slower CD4+ T-cell loss. Although changing the V3 loop sequence of HIV-1SF162 to that of HIV-1SF2 did not change the rate of CD4+ T-cell depletion, replacing the V3 of HIV-1SF2 with the sequence of HIV-1SF162 resulted in virus that was poorly infectious in vivo but not in vitro. These studies suggest that the envelope gene determines properties important for pathogenesis in vivo as well as for cell tropism in vitro. HIV-1 infection in vivo may have more stringent requirements for envelope conformation.