We examined the nef gene of HIV-1 in a long-term nonprogressor to look for evidence suggesting an attenuated virus. The nef gene was previously shown to be required for induction of AIDS. Simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) deleted in nef, while infectious, fails to sustain the high viral loads necessary for the induction of AIDS in infected adult rhesus monkeys. The human subject of this report was found to harbor virus (HIV-1 Sur25) encoding open-nef reading frames. However, the nef genes of this subject bore a signature point mutation: a cysteine at amino acid 138. The sequence at this position was identical in all clones examined over a 3-year period. When this sequence was compared to the sequence database for AIDS and human retroviruses at Los Alamos, New Mexico, several isolates from other asymptomatic individuals were also found to encode nef genes with a cysteine at position 138. Furthermore, Cys-138 was found in chimpanzee immunodeficiency virus (CIV), a lentivirus that is similar to HIV but does not cause AIDS in chimpanzees. Multiple cysteines are also found in the nef gene of African green monkey virus, SVIagm, including cysteine at the position analogous to Cys-138. While seroprevalence of SIVagm is high in the wild, there is no known disease associated with this virus. The pathogenic virus isolated from Asian macaques, SIVmac, encodes a Nef protein that has few cysteines. Although the virus HIVSur25 encodes a completely open-nef gene, the virus from this individual is similar to attenuated SIVmac (SIVmac239/nef-deletion) as well as HIV deleted in nef in its growth properties in H9 cells. Nef containing a cysteine at position 138 was shown to be responsible for determining the ability to grow in H9.