Poliovirus genomes which contain small regions of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) gag, pol, and env genes substituted in frame for the P1 capsid region replicate and express HIV-1 proteins as fusion proteins with the P1 capsid precursor protein upon transfection into cells (W. S. Choi, R. Pal-Ghosh, and C. D. Morrow, J. Virol. 65:2875-2883, 1991). Since these genomes, referred to as replicons, do not express capsid proteins, a complementation system was developed to encapsidate the genomes by providing P1 capsid proteins in trans from a recombinant vaccinia virus, VV-P1. Virus stocks of encapsidated replicons were generated after serial passage of the replicon genomes into cells previously infected with VV-P1 (D. C. Porter, D. C. Ansardi, W. S. Choi, and C. D. Morrow, J. Virol. 67:3712- 3719, 1993). Using this system, we have further defined the role of the P1 region in viral protein expression and RNA encapsidation. In the present study, we constructed poliovirus replicons which contain the complete 1,492- bp gag gene of HIV-1 substituted for the entire P1 region of poliovirus. To investigate whether the VP4 coding region was required for the replication and encapsidation of poliovirus RNA, a second replicon in which the complete gag gene was substituted for the VP2, VP3, and VP1 capsid sequences was constructed. Transfection of replicon RNA with and without the VP4 coding region into cells resulted in similar levels of expression of the HIV-1 Gag protein and poliovirus 3CD protein, as indicated by immunoprecipitation using specific antibodies. Northern (RNA) blot analysis of RNA from transfected cells demonstrated comparable levels of RNA replication for each replicon. Transfection of the replicon genomes into cells infected with VV-P1 resulted in the encapsidation of the genomes; serial passage in the presence of VV-P1 resulted in the generation of virus stocks of encapsidated replicons. Analysis of the levels of protein expression and encapsidated replicon RNA from virus stocks after 21 serial passages of the replicon genomes with VV- P1 indicated that the replicon which contained the VP4 coding region was present at a higher level than the replicon which contained a complete substitution of the P1 capsid sequences. These differences in encapsidation, though, were not detected after only two serial passages of the replicons with VV-P1 or upon coinfection and serial passage with type 1 Sabin poliovirus. The results of this study demonstrate that the entire P1 region of the poliovirus genome can be substituted with a foreign gene without significantly affecting the capacity of the genome to replicate or be encapsidated.