The vif gene of human and simian immunodeficiency viruses (HIV and SIV) encodes a late gene product that is essential for viral infectivity in natural target cells. Virions produced in the absence of Vif are abnormal in their ultrastructural morphology and are severely impaired in the ability to complete proviral DNA synthesis upon entry, into new target cells. Because previous studies failed to detect Vif protein in virus particles, Vif is believed to influence virus infectivity indirectly, by affecting virion assembly, release, and/or maturation. In this report, we reexamined the possibility that Vif is a virion-associated protein, Utilizing high-titer Vif-specific antibodies, a sensitive immunoblot technique, and highly concentrated virus preparations, we detected a 23-kDa Vif-reactive protein in wild-type HIV type 1 (HIV-1) and a 27-kDa Vif-reactive protein in wild-type SIV(SM) virions. Neither protein was present in virions derived from vif- deficient HIV-1 and SIV-(SM) proviral constructs. Vif protein content was similar among different strains of HIV-1 and was independent of the cell type (permissive or nonpermissive) used to produce the virus. To determine the subvirion localization of Vif. HIV-1 virions were treated with proteinase K or Triton X-100 to remove virion surface proteins and the viral membrane, respectively, purified through sucrose, and analyzed by immunoblot analysis. Vif protein content was not affected by the removal of external surface proteins or by the removal of the viral membrane and submembrane p17(Gug) matrix protein. Instead, Vif colocalized with viral core structures which sedimented at a density of 1.25 g/ml on linear sucrose gradients (enveloped HIV-1 particles sediment at a density of 1.17 g/ml). Finally, the amount of Vif protein packaged into virions was estimated to be on the order of 1 molecule of Vif for every, 20 to 30 molecules of p24(Gng), or between 60 and 100 molecules of Vif per particle. These results indicate that Vif represents an integral component of HIV and SIV particles and raise the possibility that it plays a direct rule in early replication events.