Human T-cell leukemia (or lymphotropic) virus type II (HTLV-II) was isolated from eight HTLV-seropositive patients, six of whom were also infected with human immunodeficiency virus, by cocultivation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) with BJAB, a continuous B-cell line. Restriction endonuclease mapping of the proviruses demonstrated consistent differences among isolates, and two distinct physical map patterns were observed. The results suggest the existence of two closely related molecular subtypes of HTLV-II, which are tentatively designated HTLV-IIa and HTLV-IIb. This finding was supported by preliminary nucleotide sequence analysis of the env gene region encoding the transmembrane glycoprotein gp21, which showed consistent differences between the two proposed virus subtypes. Exploitation of differences in restriction endonuclease sites allowed polymerase chain reaction amplification to detect and differentiate the two subtypes in fresh PBMCs of HTLV-seropositive intravenous drug abusers (IVDAs). The results of these studies confirm that HTLV-II infection is the prominent HTLV infection in seropositive IVDAs and also show that infection with both subtypes occurs. The finding of genetic heterogeneity in the HTLV-II group of viruses may have important implications for studies on its role in human disease and will be useful in characterizing the viruses present in newly discovered endemic foci in New World indigenous populations.