Different classes of retroviruses have been shown to induce immunodeficiency diseases in various animal species. These animal models may provide an insight into our understanding of AIDS but, with the exception of one strain of feline leukaemia virus, the determinants of pathogenicity have not yet been mapped to these viral genomes. The immunodeficiency-inducing feline leukaemia virus is replication-defective, harbouring the determinant of pathogenicity within its env sequences. We have studied the Duplan strain of murine leukaemia virus which induces, in C57BL/6 mice, a severe immunodeficiency disease with striking similarities to human AIDS. We have identified the aetiological agent of this murine immunodeficiency disease as another defective retrovirus, with a genome of 4.8 kilobases. Molecular cloning and sequencing of this DNA showed that the pol and env genes have been deleted, but that the complete gag region has been conserved and has a novel sequence encoding the p12 protein. As with the feline leukaemia virus, these results provide evidence for the role of defective retroviruses in inducing immunodeficiency and facilitate the study of the mechanisms underlying the pathogenesis of retrovirus-induced immunodeficiency syndromes, including AIDS.