The genetic diversity and phylogenetic relationships of a collection of strains of dengue virus type 1 (DV-1), isolated from different parts of the world, were investigated. Phylogenetic trees derived from the complete sequence of the E gene of 44 strains suggested the existence of five genetic types defined by a maximum nucleotide divergence within each group of 6%. The 22 strains from America were classified into a single genetic type that included strains associated either with classical dengue or hemorrhagic dengue episodes. Using a maximum likelihood procedure based on a single rate with dated tips model and substitution rates calculated at the third codon position, evolution of the five DV-1 genotypes was shown to conform to a molecular clock. The average rate of evolution was estimated to be approximately 16.2 x 10(-4) substitutions/third codon position site/year. Using this estimate, divergence among the DV-1 genotypes was calculated to have occurred approximately 100 years ago. Very low average value of the ratio of nonsynonymous-to-synonymous nucleotide substitutions, relative to the respective sites (0.046), indicated that the evolution of the E gene of the DV-1 is subject mostly to purifying selection.