An African HIV-1 sequence from 1959 and implications for the origin of the epidemic

Nature. 1998 Feb 5;391(6667):594-7. doi: 10.1038/35400.


There is considerable genetic diversity among viruses of different subtypes (designated A to J) in the major group of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1), the form of HIV that is dominant in the global epidemic. If available, HIV-1 sequences pre-dating the recognition of AIDS could be crucial in defining the time of origin and the subsequent evolution of these viruses in humans. The oldest known case of HIV-1 infection was reported to be that of a sailor from Manchester who died of an AIDS-like illness in 1959; however, the authenticity of this case has not been confirmed. Genetic analysis of sequences from clinical materials obtained from 1971 to 1976 from members of a Norwegian family infected earlier than 1971 showed that they carried viruses of the HIV-1 outlier group, a variant form that is mainly restricted to West Africa. Here we report the amplification and characterization of viral sequences from a 1959 African plasma sample that was previously found to be HIV-1 seropositive. Multiple phylogenetic analyses not only authenticate this case as the oldest known HIV-1 infection, but also place its viral sequence near the ancestral node of subtypes B and D in the major group, indicating that these HIV-1 subtypes, and perhaps all major-group viruses, may have evolved from a single introduction into the African population not long before 1959.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Democratic Republic of the Congo / epidemiology
  • Disease Outbreaks / history*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • HIV Infections / blood
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections / history*
  • HIV Infections / virology*
  • HIV-1 / classification
  • HIV-1 / genetics*
  • HIV-1 / isolation & purification
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • RNA, Viral / blood
  • Sequence Alignment


  • RNA, Viral

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AF030526
  • GENBANK/AF030527
  • GENBANK/AF030528
  • GENBANK/AF030529
  • GENBANK/AF030530
  • GENBANK/AF030531
  • GENBANK/AF030532
  • GENBANK/AF030533
  • GENBANK/AF030534
  • GENBANK/AF030535
  • GENBANK/AF030536
  • GENBANK/AF030537
  • GENBANK/AF030538
  • GENBANK/AF030539
  • GENBANK/AF030540
  • GENBANK/AF030541
  • GENBANK/AF030543
  • GENBANK/AF030544
  • GENBANK/AF030637
  • GENBANK/AF030638
  • GENBANK/AF030639
  • GENBANK/AF030640
  • GENBANK/AF030641
  • GENBANK/AF030642
  • GENBANK/AF030643
  • GENBANK/AF030644
  • GENBANK/AF030645
  • GENBANK/AF030646
  • GENBANK/AF030647
  • GENBANK/AF030648