The etiological agent of AIDS, LAV/HTLV-III, is common in Central Africa but is not endemic in other areas of that continent. A novel human retrovirus, distinct from LAV/HTLV-III, has now been isolated from two AIDS patients from West Africa. Partial characterization of this virus revealed that it has biological and morphological properties very similar to LAV but that it differs in some of its antigenic components. Although the core antigens may share some common epitopes, the West African AIDS retrovirus and LAV differ substantially in their envelope glycoproteins. The envelope antigen of the West African virus can be recognized by serum from a macaque with simian AIDS infected by the simian retrovirus termed STLV-IIImac, suggesting that the West African AIDS virus may be more closely related to this simian virus than to LAV. Hybridization experiments with LAV subgenomic probes further established that this new retrovirus, here referred to as LAV-II, is distantly related to LAV and distinct from STLV-IIImac.