A variant of simian immunodeficiency virus (SIVSMM/PBj), isolated from a chronically infected pig-tailed macaque has been shown in previous studies to produce acutely fatal disease uniformly in pig-tailed macaques and in some rhesus macaques. The present study extends investigation of SIVSMM/PBj pathogenesis in rhesus and cynomolgus monkeys. Cynomolgus and rhesus macaques were found to be uniformly susceptible to infection, but as previously reported, the rhesus were found to not be uniform in their response during the acute disease. Homogenized tissues from a rhesus that died acutely from SIVSMM/PBj were passaged to 6 rhesus monkeys in an attempt to increase lethality. Five of 6 rhesus monkeys receiving intravenous inoculation of either spleen (10(3) TCID50) or lymph node (10(5) TCID50) homogenate developed acute disease; 4 died (days 8-10), 1 recovered, and one rhesus remained asymptomatic. Three of 3 cynomolgus macaques and 4 of 4 pig-tailed macaques receiving the same inoculum died acutely within 9 days. Clinical disease in macaques that died was characterized by diffuse lymphadenopathy within 5 days of inoculation and severe diarrhea beginning 1 to 3 days before death. Anorexia, lymphopenia (< 1000 cells/mm3), and mild hypoalbuminemia preceded onset of diarrhea by 24 h. Viral p27 was detected in circulation by day 6 postinfection, with all animals dying acutely having detectable serum p27 and no detectable humoral response. Acute lethality was attributed to severe metabolic acidosis (pH < 7.20) which was observed 24-48 h prior to death in the pig-tailed and cynomolgus macaques. Immunohistochemistry revealed numerous SIV antigen-positive lymphocytes and macrophages in the lymph nodes, spleen, gut-associated lymphoid tissues and gastrointestinal lamina propria. Histopathologic lesions included marked to severe hyperplasia of the T-cell-dependent areas in lymphoid tissues and diffuse nonulcerative lymphohistiocytic gastroenteritis. Surviving rhesus developed strong humoral immune responses to the major SIV proteins.