Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) originated in chimpanzees; yet, several previous studies have shown that primary HIV-1 isolates replicate poorly in chimpanzee CD4+ T lymphocytes in vitro and in vivo. The reasons for this apparent restriction are not understood. Here, we describe a new activation protocol that led to a reproducible expansion and activation of chimpanzee CD4+ T lymphocytes in vitro. Using this protocol, we uncovered species-specific differences in the activation profiles of human and chimpanzee CD4+ T-cells, including HLA-DR and CD62L. Moreover, we found that improved activation facilitated the replication of both CXCR4 and CCR5-tropic HIV-1 in CD4+ T-cell cultures from over 30 different chimpanzees. Thus, the previously reported "replication block" of CCR5-tropic HIV-1 in chimpanzee lymphocytes appears to be due, at least in large part, to suboptimal T-cell activation. © 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.