Clin Microbiol Infect 2012; 18: 514–520
It is now well established that simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIVs) from chimpanzees (SIVcpz) and gorillas (SIVgor) from west Central Africa are at the origin of HIV-1/AIDS. Apes are also infected with other retroviruses, notably simian T-cell lymphotropic viruses (STLVs) and simian foamy viruses (SFVs), that can be transmitted to humans. We discuss the actual knowledge on SIV, STLV and SFV infections in chimpanzees, gorillas, and bonobos. We especially elaborate on how the recent development of non-invasive methods has allowed us to identify the reservoirs of the HIV-1 ancestors in chimpanzees and gorillas, and increased our knowledge of the natural history of SIV infections in chimpanzees. Multiple cross-species events with retroviruses from apes to humans have occurred, but only one transmission of SIVcpz from chimpanzees in south-eastern Cameroon spread worldwide, and is responsible for the actual HIV pandemic. Frequent SFV transmissions have been recently reported, but no human-to-human transmission has been documented yet. Because humans are still in contact with apes, identification of pathogens in wild ape populations can signal which pathogens may be cause risk for humans, and allow the development of serological and molecular assays with which to detect transmissions to humans. Finally, non-invasive sampling also allows the study of the impact of retroviruses and other pathogens on the health and survival of endangered species such as chimpanzees, gorillas, and bonobos.