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To determine HIV-1 env and gag subtypes in male homosexual and heterosexual populations in Cape Town, South Africa.DNA was isolated from blood originating from 61 patients attending local clinics. Samples were divided according to presumed mode of transmission: male homosexual (n = 26), heterosexual/vertical (n = 32), blood transfusion (n = 1) and unknown (n = 2).Proviral HIV-1 DNA was subtyped by heteroduplex mobility assay (HMA) based on the 700 base-pair V3-V5 region of the env gene (n = 47) or by sequence analysis of the p17 region of the gag gene (n = 33), or both. For HMA, reference plasmids were constructed containing the V1-V5 env region sequences (1.2-kb) representative of local subtypes. Subtype designation of reference subtypes was confirmed by sequence analysis of the V3-loop region.Analysis of the partial gag sequences and HMA of the V3-V5 env region identified three subtypes: B, C and D. A fourth env subtype, subtype E, was also identified by HMA. Subtypes were found to segregate according to mode of transmission, with subtype B viruses found in 96% (25 out of 26) of the male homosexual group and subtype C viruses found in 81% (26 out of 32) of the heterosexual/vertical transmission group. Subtype B viruses were also found in four heterosexual patients, one patient infected by blood transfusion and in two patients with unknown mode of transmission. Subtype D viruses were found in one male homosexual patient and one heterosexual patient. A subtype E virus was identified in a heterosexual patient. No discrepancy was found in subtype designation in samples analysed in both between the gag and env regions (n = 19).Subtype B viruses were associated with male homosexual transmission and subtype C viruses with heterosexual transmission, suggesting two independent epidemics. This data may have implications in the selection of appropriate vaccines for different risk groups in the country.