The long-term response of 10 asymptomatic, antiretroviral therapy-naive HIV-1-infected patients to potent combination antiretroviral therapy was characterized by monitoring levels of HIV-1 RNA in plasma, peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC), and lymphoid tissue using highly sensitive HIV-1 RNA assays. Although plasma viral loads were continuously suppressed to levels below 50 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml for up to 2.5 years (60-128 weeks), HIV-1 RNA was still detectable at very low levels (1 to 49 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml) in 25% of the samples. In corresponding PBMC specimens, residual HIV-RNA was detectable in as much as 91% of samples tested (1 to 420 HIV-1 RNA copies/microg total RNA). Similarly, HIV-1 RNA levels in lymphoid tissue also remained detectable at a high frequency (86%). A highly significant correlation was demonstrated between therapy-induced change in PBMC HIV-1 RNA levels and change in plasma HIV-1 RNA levels (r2 = 0.69; p = 0.003). These findings support the concept that measurement of HIV-1 RNA in the easily accessible PBMC compartment is relevant for evaluating the potency of current and future antiretroviral therapies.