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To evaluate how viral variants may affect disease progression in human pediatric AIDS, we studied the potential of three simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) isolates to induce simian AIDS in newborn rhesus macaques. The three virus isolates were previously shown to range from pathogenic (SIVmac251 and SIVmac239) to nonpathogenic (SIVmac1A11) when inoculated intravenously into juvenile and adult rhesus macaques. Six newborn macaques inoculated with pathogenic, uncloned SIVmac251 developed persistent, high levels of cell-associated and cell-free viremia, had no detectable antiviral antibodies, and had poor weight gain; these animals all exhibited severe clinical disease and pathologic lesions diagnostic for simian AIDS and were euthanatized 10 to 26 weeks after inoculation. Two newborns inoculated with pathogenic, molecularly cloned SIVmac239 developed persistent high virus load in peripheral blood, but both animals had normal weight gain and developed antiviral antibodies. One of the SIVmac239-infected neonates exhibited pathologic lesions diagnostic for SAIDS and was euthanatized at 34 weeks after inoculation; the other SIVmac239-infected neonate remained alive and exhibited no significant clinical disease for more than 1 year after inoculation. In contrast, three newborn rhesus macaques inoculated with the nonpathogenic molecular clone, SIVmac1A11, had transient, low-level viremia, seroconverted by 10 weeks after inoculation, had normal weight gain, and remained healthy for over 1 year. These results indicate that (i) newborn rhesus macaques infected with an uncloned, virulent SIVmac isolate have a more rapid, fulminant disease course than do adults inoculated with the same virus, (ii) the most rapid disease progression is associated with lack of a detectable humoral immune response in SIV-infected infant macaques, (iii) a molecularly cloned, attenuated SIV isolate is nonpathogenic in neonatal macaques, and (iv) SIV-infected neonatal macaques exhibit patterns of infection, virus load, and disease progression similar to those observed in human immunodeficiency virus-infected children. This SIV/neonatal rhesus model of pediatric AIDS provides a rapid, sensitive model with which to compare the virulence of SIV isolates and to study the mechanisms underlying the differences in disease progression in human immunodeficiency virus-infected infants.