Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 and V3 sequences from 15 homosexual men and 19 intravenous drug users in the Amsterdam Cohort studies were analysed. Previously, we reported that V3 domains of viruses from drug users are distinguishable from those of homosexual men on the basis of two silent mutations. Phylogenetic analysis of and V3 shows that differences in all three regions correlate with risk group. Two positions in both and were found to differ significantly between the risk groups. The distinguishing positions were confirmed for sequences from 11 Scottish and four German samples. The three regions show relatively independent evolution patterns; they resulted in different phylogenies, the only stable clustering being that based on the risk group distinction. Pairwise differences between sequences of the genes were moderately correlated (around 0.30). Surprisingly, when only silent changes were counted, the correlations dropped almost to zero, indicating that the evolution towards independence was more advanced in the silent than in the non-silent positions. This suggests that selection at the amino acid level is not the primary driving force for the independent evolutionary behaviour of the genes. Recombination, combined with restrictions on certain amino acids because of epistatic interactions between the genes, could be an alternative explanation of this phenomenon.


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