The nucleic acid sequences of the pre-membrane/membrane and envelope protein genes of 23 geographically and temporally distinct dengue (DEN)-3 viruses were determined. This was accomplished by reverse transcriptase-PCR amplification of the structural genes followed by automated DNA sequence analysis. Comparison of nucleic acid sequences revealed that similarity among the viruses was greater than 90%. The similarity among deduced amino acids was between 95% and 100%, and in many cases identical amino acid substitutions occurred among viruses from similar geographical regions. Alignment of nucleic acid sequences followed by parsimony analysis allowed the generation of phylogenetic trees, demonstrating that geographically independent evolution of DEN-3 viruses had occurred. The DEN-3 viruses were separated into four genetically distinct subtypes. Subtype I consists of viruses from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and the South Pacific islands; subtype II consists of viruses from Thailand; subtype III consists of viruses from Sri Lanka, India, Africa and Samoa; subtype IV consists of viruses from Puerto Rico and the 1965 Tahiti virus. Phylogenetic analysis has also contributed to our understanding of the molecular epidemiology and worldwide distribution of DEN-3 viruses.