Human T-cell lymphotropic virus type II (HTLV-II) primarily infects two different populations in which the virus is transmitted in very diverse ways. In endemically infected populations, the virus is propagated through sexual contact, and by mother to child transmission via breast-feeding, among intravenous drug users (IDUs), spread is mainly due to blood-borne transmission via needle sharing. The phylogeny of HTLV-II strains isolated from American Indian and Pygmy tribes and strains from IDUs, reveal that the virus originated on the African continent as a result of a simian to human transmission at least 400,000 years ago. HTLV-II was very likely introduced into the American continent during one or more migrations of HTLV-II infected Asian populations over the Bering land bridge, some 15,000-35,000 years ago. During the last few decades, HTLV-II has been transmitted from native American Indians to IDUs at least twice, followed by a rapid spread of the virus in the drug users population world-wide due to the practice of needle sharing. Molecular clock analysis showed that HTLV-II has two different evolutionary rates, with the molecular clock for the virus in IDUs ticking 150-350 times faster than the one in endemically infected tribes: 2.7x10(-4) compared to 1.7/7.3x10(-7) nucleotide substitutions per site per year in the LTR region. Although many of the HTLV-II infected drug users are co-infected with HIV, the dramatic acceleration of the evolutionary rate seems to be mainly related to the different modes of transmission in the two populations. These contrasting evolutionary rates correlate with an endemic spread of HTLV-II in infected tribes compared to an epidemic spread in IDUs.