The distribution of the human endogenous retrovirus (HERV)-K genome was investigated by Southern-blot analyses using a HERV-K-env DNA probe. With the exception of one DNA-sample, obtained from a Chinese individual in whom an amplification of HERV-K was detected, Southern-blot analyses yielded identical hybridization patterns with DNA from peripheral blood lymphocytes of 37 normal healthy blood donors, with DNA from six tumor cell lines, or with 23 DNA samples prepared from various carcinoma tissues. To elucidate whether the integration of HERV-K genomes into the primate lineage occurred as a single event or as an integration with later expansion, we further examined the evolutionary history of HERV-K by Southern blot analyses with DNA samples from different primate species. We detected HERV-K genomes in Macaca mulatta and Macaca silenus, which represent Old World monkeys, but not in prosimians (Galago demidovii) and New World monkeys, represented by Saguinus fuscicollis, Saguinus oedipus, and Callithrix iacchus. Thus, we assume that the infection of the primate lineage with HERV-K had occurred after the divergence of New World and Old World monkeys, but before the evolutionary expansion of large hominoids. In contrast to the apparent lack of HERV-K-env sequences in DNA from tissue of the New World monkey Saguinus oedipus (cotton-top marmoset), we found HERV-K-DNA in the B95-8 cell-line, which is a Saguinus oedipus leukocyte cell-line, immortalized in vitro by Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and cultivated in human cells. It may be speculated that HERV-K-DNA or HERV-K-particles were introduced into these cells during in vitro transformation with EBV.