Seventeen women who were persistently uninfected by human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1), despite repeated sexual exposure, and 12 of their HIV-positive male partners were studied for antiviral correlates of non-transmission. Thirteen women had > or = 1 immune response in the form of CD8 cell noncytotoxic HIV-1 suppressive activity, proliferative CD4 cell response to HIV antigens, CD8 cell production of macrophage inflammatory protein-1 beta, or ELISPOT assay for HIV-1-specific interferon-gamma secretion. The male HIV-positive partners without AIDS had extremely high CD8 cell counts. All 8 male partners evaluated showed CD8 cell-related cytotoxic HIV suppressive activity. Reduced CD4 cell susceptibility to infection, neutralizing antibody, single-cell cytokine production, and local antibody in the women played no apparent protective role. These observations suggest that the primary protective factor is CD8 cell activity in both the HIV-positive donor and the HIV-negative partner. These findings have substantial implications for vaccine development.