AIDS dementia complex (ADC) develops in only a third of HIV-infected patients who progress to AIDS. Macrophages and microglial cells are the major cellular sites of productive HIV replication in brain. Using 11 blood isolates of HIV from asymptomatic patients there was marked variation in tropism and the level of productive infection in recently adherent monocytes and monocyte-derived macrophages cultured in vitro. However, less variation was seen with 19 blood isolates from advanced HIV infection and 11 postmortem tissue isolates from brain, cerebrospinal fluid, spleen, and lung. Newly adherent monocytes expressed CCR5 in all seven patients tested, consistent with their susceptibility to infection but not explaining the above variability. There is also marked regional variability in neuropathology in the brain of patients with ADC. We have demonstrated that there was marked variation in the V3 sequences of HIV clones from different regions of the cortex of a patient with ADC, suggesting independent evolution of HIV replication in brain. Furthermore, production of the neurotoxin quinolinic acid from HIV-infected macrophages varied, depending on the host and source of HIV isolate. Hence variations in viral genotype, production by infected macrophages, and subsequent toxin production may contribute to the variability in neuropathology between individuals and between different regions of the brain in the same individual.