A study was conducted of the genetic relation between human T-cell lymphotropic retroviruses and visna virus. The human T-cell lymphotropic viruses include those associated with T-cell malignancies (HTLV-I and HTLV-II) as well as the etiologic agent of the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HTLV-III). Visna virus, a slowly replicating and pathogenic but nononcogenic retrovirus of sheep, is a member of the subfamily Lentivirinae. Results obtained by molecular hybridization and heteroduplex analysis indicated that a greater extent of nucleotide sequence homology exists between HTLV-III and visna virus than between HTLV-III and any of the other viruses. The homology observed under conditions of low stringency spanned the entire genome, but was strongest in the gag/pol region. The morphogenesis and fine structure of HTLV-III and visna virus also demonstrated striking similarities. The data provide strong evidence for a close taxonomic and thus evolutionary relation between HTLV-III and the Lentivirinae subfamily.
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