Simian virus 40 (SV40) sequences for large tumor antigen (T-ag) were recently detected in a significant fraction of certain human brain tumors of early childhood (Bergsagel et al., N. Engl. J. Med. 326, 988-993, 1992). In the current study, we sought to determine whether authentic SV40 was present in the choroid plexus and ependymoma tumors previously examined. Polymerase chain reaction and DNA sequence analysis revealed authentic SV40 regulatory region and major capsid (VP1) sequences in 14 of 17 tumors tested. Only one 72-basepair element was detected in the SV40 enhancer region of positive tumor samples, an arrangement designated as "archetypal." The C terminus of the T-ag gene was detected in the same 14 tumors and was sequenced from 5 tumors; some nucleotide changes were found that would result in amino acid changes in T-ag. Infectious SV40 was isolated from one sample after lipofection of tumor DNA into monkey kidney cells. Sequence analysis of the rescued virus SVCPC revealed (i) an archetypal regulatory region, (ii) nucleotide changes in the C terminus of the T-ag gene that distinguished it from SV40 laboratory strains 776 and SV40-B2 and from human isolate SVPML-1, and (iii) identity with previous human brain tumor isolate SVMEN in the three genomic regions sequenced. No human-isolate-specific distinguishing features were detected among the viral sequences analyzed. Thus, authentic SV40 is present in humans and associated with two tumor types known to be induced experimentally by the virus.