Type C retroviruses, designated simian T-cell lymphotropic virus type I (STLV-I), have been isolated from several genera of Old World monkeys and apes, but not from New World monkeys and prosimians. To determine the genomic diversity and molecular evolution of STLV-I and to clarify their genetic relationship to human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I (HTLV-I), we enzymatically amplified, then directly sequenced selected regions of the gag, pol, env, and pX genes of STLV-I strains from Asia and Africa. STLV-I strains Si-2, Matsu, and JM86 from Japanese macaques, which exhibited sequence similarities ranging from 98.5 to 99.8% among themselves, diverged by 12.9 to 13.3% from STLV-I strain MM39-83 from a naturally infected rhesus macaque, by 9.7 to 11.2% from STLV-I strains from Africa, and by 8.8 to 11.2% from HTLV- I strains originating in Japan, India, Africa, the Caribbean, the Americas, Polynesia, and Melanesia. By contrast, the interspecies nucleotide sequence similarity among African STLV-I strains from green monkey, yellow baboon, sooty mangabey, and common chimpanzee was remarkably high, ranging from 96.9 to 97.4%, and these STLV-I strains diverged by only 2.2 to 2.8% from HTLV-I strain EL from equatorial Zaire. Phylogenetic trees constructed by using the neighbor-joining and maximum parsimony methods indicated that the Asian STLV- I strains diverged from the common ancestral virus prior to African STLV-I and cosmopolitan and Melanesian HTLV-I strains. Thus, our data are consistent with an archaic presence of STLV-I in Asia, probably predating macaque speciation, with subsequent independent virus evolution in Asia and Africa.
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