We cloned JC virus DNA obtained directly from brain tissue of 10 cases of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy and compared DNAs by restriction endonuclease mapping. Before cloning, each DNA preparation was homogeneous with respect to restriction patterns, but with the cloned DNAs we found variability in three regions of the genome among DNAs from different cases. There was a region of hypervariability between 0.67 and 0.725 map units; no two DNAs were exactly alike in this region. We determined that the origin of DNA replication also was in this region at 0.69 +/- 0.02 map units. In 4 of the 10 DNAs examined there was a deletion of approximately 75 base pairs between 0.14 and 0.235 map units, the region presumed to contain the codons for the C-terminal ends of the structural protein Vpl and for T antigen. JC virus DNA from these same four cases had an additional HincII-HpaI site at 0.895 map units in the presumptive Vp3 and Vp2 coding regions. Overall, no two JC virus genomes were identical although all were from fatal central nervous system infections and were infectious in vitro. Our restriction patterns suggest that there are two subtypes of JC virus circulating in the population.