The complete nucleotide sequence of a human T-cell lymphotropic virus type II isolate (HTLV-II-Gu) from an Italian injecting drug user was obtained, representing the first entire sequence of a European HTLV-II isolate. The HTLV-II-Gu genome was more similar to the HTLV-IIb-NRA isolate (98.4%) and HTLV-IIb-G12 (98.2%) than to HTLV-IIa-Mo (95.2%). The classification of HTLV-II-Gu as subtype IIb was confirmed by restriction analysis. Just as for HTLV-IIa strain Mo, HTLV-IIb-Gu cultured lymphocytes produce two additional mRNAs generated through alternative splicing in the region. A phylogenetic analysis was performed by using the methods of neighbour-joining and parsimony with bootstrapping, and maximum likelihood. The different gene regions were analysed separately, comparing Gu with all other HTLV-II strains presently available. In the LTR, as well as in other genome regions, a clear separation between IIa and IIb was evident, and within the IIb subtype three clusters were present of which two were well supported; one contained exclusively Amerindian strains and the other included all Italian and Spanish strains together with two strains obtained from New York drug users. All data clearly showed that HTLV-IIa and IIb subtypes are closely related and are equidistant from HTLV-I, suggesting that both groups evolved simultaneously. The results suggest that HTLV-II-Gu and other IIb South European isolates were probably derived from North American IIb isolates. The data also indicate that sequence analysis is necessary to further classify IIa and IIb subtypes.


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