Both increased lymphocyte renewal with subsequent exhaustion of the immune system and impaired T-cell renewal have been put forth to account for CD4+ T-cell depletion and development of AIDS in HIV-1-infected humans and SIV-infected nonhuman primates. In the present study, telomeric terminal restriction fragment length and telomerase activity were used as measures of proliferative activity of T lymphocytes from three nonhuman primate species before and after being infected with SIV. In peripheral blood T cells, our data show both species and T-cell-subset-specific differences in proliferative activity accompanied by different patterns of disease progression. A significant postinfection increase in telomerase/proliferative activity in CD4+ T cells from seropositive sooty mangabeys and from normal progressor rhesus macaques was associated with asymptomatic infection or delayed disease progression, respectively, whereas a decrease in telomerase/proliferative activity detected in CD4+ T cells postinfection from SIVsmmPBj14-infected pigtailed macaques was associated with rapid CD4+ T-cell depletion and disease progression. The levels of telomerase activity observed in CD4+ T cells from peripheral blood closely parallelled those seen in CD4+ T cells in lymph node samples from selected animals. Our data suggest that an increase in proliferative activity of T lymphocytes in vivo may be associated with a favorable course of SIV infection in nonhuman primates.