J Virol. 2015 Dec;89(24):12480-91.
Simian foamy virus (SFV) is a ubiquitous retrovirus in nonhuman primates (NHPs) that can be transmitted to humans, mostly through severe bites. In the past few years, our laboratory has identified more than 50 hunters from central Africa infected with zoonotic SFVs. Analysis of the complete sequences of five SFVs obtained from these individuals revealed that env was the most variable gene. Furthermore, recombinant SFV strains, some of which involve sequences in the env gene, were recently identified. Here, we investigated the variability of the env genes of zoonotic SFV strains and searched for possible recombinants. We sequenced the complete env gene or its surface glycoprotein region (SU) from DNA amplified from the blood of (i) a series of 40 individuals from Cameroon or Gabon infected with a gorilla or chimpanzee foamy virus (FV) strain and (ii) 1 gorilla and 3 infected chimpanzees living in the same areas as these hunters. Phylogenetic analyses revealed the existence of two env variants among both the gorilla and chimpanzee FV strains that were present in zoonotic and NHP strains. These variants differ greatly (>30% variability) in a 753-bp-long region located in the receptor-binding domain of SU, whereas the rest of the gene is very conserved. Although the organizations of the Env protein sequences are similar, the potential glycosylation patterns differ between variants. Analysis of recombination suggests that the variants emerged through recombination between different strains, although all parental strains could not be identified.