- The formation of the HIV-1 core is the final step in the viral maturation pathway, resulting in the formation of infectious virus. Most current models for HIV-1 core formation suggest that, upon proteolytic cleavage from the immature Gag, capsid (CA) dissociates into the viral interior before reforming into the core. Here we present evidence for an alternate view of core formation by taking advantage of our serendipitous observation of large membrane-enclosed structures in HIV-1 supernatants from infected cells. Cryo-electron tomographic studies show that these structures, which contain ordered arrays of what is likely the membrane-associated matrix protein, contain multiple cores that can be captured at different stages of maturation. Our studies suggest that HIV maturation involves a non-diffusional phase transition in which the detaching layer of the cleaved CA lattice is gradually converted into a roll that ultimately forms the surface of the mature conical core.