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We have obtained 15 HIV-2 isolates from the peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) of 24 HIV-2-infected west African people. The frequency of virus isolation correlated with the severity of HIV-2 infection; only three isolates were obtained from 11 asymptomatic individuals, whereas virus was isolated from nearly all (12 of 13) individuals with symptoms. The HIV-2 isolates showed distinct replicative and cytopathic characteristics and, similarly to HIV-1 isolates, could be divided into two major groups: rapid/high and slow/low. Rapid/high isolates, i.e. isolates with the ability to replicate in tumour cell lines, were obtained from individuals with symptomatic HIV-2 infection and CD4 lymphocyte counts < 360/[mu]l blood; these isolates induced syncytia in PBMC cultures. HIV-2 isolates unable to replicate continuously in tumour cell lines (slow/low isolates) induced small syncytia, cell death, or no cytopathic effect at all. All HIV-2 isolates obtained from asymptomatic individuals showed a slow/low replication pattern.

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