This study compared the levels of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) virion RNA in plasma from whole blood collected in VACUTAINER CPT (cell preparation tube), VACUTAINER PPT (plasma preparation tube), VACUTAINER SST (serum separation tube), and standard VACUTAINER tubes with sodium heparin, acid citrate dextrose, sodium citrate, and potassium EDTA used as anticoagulants. Quantitative plasma HIV RNA levels were measured by branched- DNA signal amplification. Blood from all tubes was either processed within 1 to 3 h after collection or stored at room temperature or at 4°C for analysis at 6 to 8 and 30 h postdraw. Immediately separated plasma from sodium citrate CPT tubes held at 4°C maintained better stability of HIV RNA equivalents than whole blood held at room temperature or 4°C. The highest number of HIV RNA equivalents was seen with EDTA VACUTAINER tubes. HIV RNA equivalents in all types of plasma were significantly higher than in SST tubes. Although a decline in HIV RNA equivalents was seen in all collection devices after 30 h, a significantly greater decline in plasma HIV RNA equivalents occurred in acid citrate dextrose VACUTAINER tubes than in citrate CPT, PPT, and standard EDTA VACUTAINER tubes. In order to minimize the variability of quantitative HIV RNA test results, our data suggest that samples collected for a particular assay should be processed at the same time postdraw using a particular tube type throughout a given study.