Simian T-cell leukemia viruses (STLVs) are the simian counterparts of human T-cell leukemia viruses (HTLVs). A novel, divergent type of STLV (STLV-L) from captive baboons was reported in 1994, but its natural prevalence remained unclear. We investigated the prevalence of STLV-L in 519 blood samples from wild-living nonhuman primates in Ethiopia. Seropositive monkeys having cross-reactive antibodies against HTLV were found among 22 out of 40 hamadryas baboons, 8 of 96 anubis baboons, 24 of 50 baboons that are hybrids between hamadryas and anubis baboons, and 41 of 177 grivet monkeys, but not in 156 gelada baboons. A Western blotting assay showed that sera obtained from seropositive hamadryas and hybrid baboons exhibited STLV-L-like reactivity. A PCR assay successfully amplified STLV sequences, which were subsequently sequenced and confirmed as being closely related to STLV-L. Surprisingly, further PCR showed that nearly half of the hamadryas (20 out of 40) and hybrid (19 out of 50) baboons had STLV-L DNA sequences. In contrast, most of the seropositive anubis baboons and grivet monkeys carried typical STLV-1 but not STLV-L. These observations demonstrate that STLV-L naturally prevails among hamadryas and hybrid baboons at significantly high rates. STLV-1 and -2, the close relative of STLV-L, are believed to have jumped across simian-human barriers, which resulted in widespread infection of HTLV-1 and -2. Further studies are required to know if STLV-L is spreading into human populations.
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