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To assess the disease progression rate among 12 HIV-2-infected West European residents (nine of West African descent), compared with the disease progression rate among HIV-1 -infected individuals of the same population, and the characteristics of the HIV-2 strains involved.HIV-2-infected individuals were identified by commercially available serological assays, their clinical status and CD4+ cell counts were monitored, and HIV-2 was isolated from their peripheral blood mononuclear cells. T-cell-line tropism and syncytium-inducing capacities of the isolated viruses were determined and their phylogenetic relationships were analysed by comparing polymerase chain reactionamplified nucleotide sequences of reverse transcriptase (RT) gene segments.Eight of the 12 HIV-2-infected individuals presented with progressive disease and one of them progressed from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention group A1 to A3 within 36 months after seroconversion. The ratios of asymptomatic versus symptomatic individuals among residents of the Rotterdam region of West African descent were 2: 7 for HIV-2 and 8: 9 for HIV-1-infected individuals. HIV-2 was isolated from six of the nine individuals with progressive disease. The time required for virus isolation correlated inversely with the individuals' CD4+ cell counts. Five of the HIV-2 isolates replicated in immortalized T-cell lines, and two isolates from patients with AIDS were syncytium-inducing. Five HIV-2 isolates from patients born in the Cape Verdian Isles grouped together within subtype A. The HIV-2 isolate from a patient of Ghanese origin belonged to subtype B. Mutations were identified in the RT genes from HIV-2 isolates of two zidovudine-treated patients, one of which has also been shown to be involved in zidovudine resistance in HIV-1.Disease progression in HIV-2 infection may be as rapid as in HIV-1. HIV-2 isolation and viral phenotype were related to disease status, and mutations identical to those observed in HIV-1 zidovudine resistance were observed in patients treated with zidovudine.