A single protein of 12 kDa, p12 is encoded by the HTLV-I genome from both the singly spliced mRNA pX-ORF-I and doubly spliced mRNA pX-rex-ORF-I. While many full-length sequences of HTLV-1 are known, data on the p12 regions of African STLV-I are unavailable. We have undertaken to sequence the p12 gene in STLV-I from Central and West Africa naturally infected primates, and have compared them to known p12 sequences of HTLV-I. Our data on sequence and in vitro transcription-translation analyses indicate that p12 is a 91-amino acid (aa) protein among STLV-I strains from Central and West Africa, in contrast to the 99-aa protein found among HTLV-I strains around the globe. The p12 sequences of STLV-I exhibit a marked genetic variability at the level of both nucleotide and peptide sequences. Hydropathic and helical wheel analyses reveal that 60% of residues in HTLV-I p12 are hydrophobic, in contrast to 55% in STLV-I from Africa. Although HTLV-I and STLV-I show a similar putative antigenic site, a second potential site was located exclusively in STLV-I from Africa. There are differences in the predicted transmembrane domains in p12 between STLV-I and HTLV-I. Furthermore, the secondary structure data according to the Chou and Fasman algorithm predict an alpha-helical domain at the carboxy terminus in HTLV-I, and this domain may be truncated in STLV-I p12. The amino acid sequence of p12 shows two leucine zipper motifs (LZMs) at the amino terminus and in the middle region, respectively. This is the first report describing the size differences in p12 protein between HTLV-I and STLV-I, which may provide insights into pathogenic mechanisms used by HTLV-I and STLV-I.