The interaction between human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) and primary mucosal cells isolated from normal human small intestine was investigated. Purified primary intestinal epithelial cells could transport cell-free HIV-1 to mononuclear cells, although the epithelial cells did not support viral replication. An unexpected finding was that primary intestinal macrophages were markedly less permissive to HIV-1 than were blood monocytes. The reduced permissiveness appeared to be due to the near absence of surface CCR5 on resident intestinal macrophages. Surface CCR5 could be up-regulated on the monocytes but not the intestinal macrophages by HIV-1 and gp120. Impaired permissiveness of intestinal macrophages to HIV-1 may play an important role in the low prevalence of HIV-1 mRNA-expressing macrophages in the lamina propria during HIV-1 infection in vivo. Characterization of the biologic properties of HIV-1 transport and infection in primary mucosal cells will be key to elucidating the pivotal role of mucosal surfaces in HIV-1 disease.