All presently available replication-competent proviral clones of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) are derived from cell culture-amplified virus. Since tissue culture is highly selective for viral strains with an in vitro growth advantage, such clones may not be representative of the biologically relevant virus present in vivo. In this study, we report the molecular cloning and genotypic characterization of 10 HIV-1 genomes directly from uncultured brain tissue of a patient with AIDS dementia complex. Targeting unintegrated circular HIV-1 molecules for recombinant lambda phage cloning, we obtained four full-length genomes with one or two long terminal repeats (LTRs), three defective genomes with internal deletions, two rearranged genomes with inverted LTR sequences, and one integrated proviral half with flanking cellular sequences. Nucleotide sequence analysis of these clones demonstrated chromosomal integration, circle formation, genomic inversion, and LTR-mediated autointegration of HIV-1 genomes in vivo. Comparison of a 510-bp hypervariable envelope region among 8 lambda phage-derived and 12 polymerase chain reaction-derived clones from the same brain specimen identified a predominant viral form as well as genetically divergent variants. Variability among 19 of 20 clones ranged between 0.2 and 1.2%. One clone exhibited 8.2% nucleotide sequence differences consisting almost exclusively of G-to-A changes. Transfection of the four full-length HIV-1 genomes identified one clone (YU-2) as replication competent and exhibiting growth characteristics similar to those of tissue culture-derived macrophage tropic strains of HIV-1. These results demonstrate, for the first time, that replication-competent HIV-1 genomes, complex mixtures of defective viral forms, and chromosomally integrated provirus persist in vivo. In addition, the brain-derived viral clones are expected to prove valuable for future studies of macrophage and neurotropism as well as for the analysis of other viral properties that are subject to in vitro selection pressures.