Rapid development of genetic variability may contribute to the pathogenicity of lentiviruses as it may allow escape from immune surveillance and/or from suppression of virus replication. Although apathogenic in African green monkeys, simian immunodeficiency virus isolated from African green monkeys is shown to display extensive genetic variability and defectiveness in the V1- and V2-like variable domains of the external envelope protein comparable to that known for human immunodeficiency virus. However, in contrast to the situation in human immunodeficiency virus-infected individuals, a predominant major virus variant was detected neither in a monkey naturally infected for more than 10 years nor in two monkeys infected with a molecular virus clone for 15-20 months. Extensive variability evolves from a single genotype with a maximal rate of 7.7 mutations per 1000 nucleotides per year. A remarkable selection for nonsynonymous mutations that accounts for 92% of all changes indicates continuous selection of variants.