Lentiviral vectors hold great promise for gene therapy, and clinical trials to examine their safety and efficacy for treating human disease are being planned. The principle concern for safety is that genetic recombination among components of the vector could lead to the emergence of replication competent retrovirus (RCR). Using a sensitive method for detecting genetic recombination, we found that the current design of lentiviral vectors permits the generation of envelope-deficient recombinant lentivirus, stable integration of the recombinant into chromosomes of transduced cells, and mobilization of the recombinant genomes to other cells when pseudotyped with an exogenous envelope. We split the lentiviral packaging construct (Gag/Gag-Pol) into two separate parts: one that expresses Gag and Gag-Pro, and another that expresses Pol (reverse transcriptase [RT] and integrase [IN]) as a fusion partner of Vpr (Vpr-RT-IN). This "trans-lentiviral" vector efficiently transduces non-dividing cells and achieves titres greater than 10(6) U/ml or 10(8) IU/ml after concentration by ultracentrifugation. The trans-lentiviral vector disarms the Gag-Pol structure and prevents the generation of recombinants containing functional RT and IN. Since RT and IN are absolutely required for any type of RCR and DNA mobilization, this new class of lentiviral vector, in combination with our sensitive in vitro assay for monitoring regeneration of the gag-pol structure, offers a unique advantage for predicting vector safety for clinical applications.