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It has been proposed that human immunodeficiency virus type 2 (HIV-2) originated from simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIVs) that are natural infections of sooty mangabeys (Cercocebus torquatus atys). To test this hypothesis, SIVs from eight sooty mangabeys, including six new viruses from West Africa, were genetically characterized. gag and env sequences showed that while the viruses of all eight sooty mangabeys belonged to the SIVsm/HIV-2 family, each was widely divergent from SIVs found earlier in captive monkeys at American primate centers. In two SIVs from sooty mangabeys discovered about 100 miles (ca. 161 Km) from each other in rural West Africa, the amino acids of a conserved gag p17-p26 region differed by 19.3%, a divergence greater than that in four of five clades of HIV-2 and in SIVs found in other African monkey species. Analysis of gag region sequences showed that feral mangabeys in one small troop harbored four distinct SIVs. Three of the newly found viruses were genetically divergent, showing as much genetic distance from each other as from the entire SIVsm/HIV-2 family. Sequencing and heteroduplex analysis of one feral animal-derived SIV showed a mosaic genome containing an env gene that was homologous with other feral SIVsm env genes in the troop but having a gag gene from another, distinct SIV. Surprisingly a gag phylogenetic tree based on nucleotide sequences showed that the African relatives closest to all three household-derived SIVs were HIV-2 subtypes D and E from humans in the same West African areas. In one case, the SIV/HIV-2 cluster was from the same village. The findings support the hypothesis that each HIV-2 subtype in West Africans originated from widely divergent SIVsm strains, transmitted by independent cross-species events in the same geographic locations.