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J Virol. Apr 1992; 66(4): 2288–2295.
PMCID: PMC289023

Low degree of human T-cell leukemia/lymphoma virus type I genetic drift in vivo as a means of monitoring viral transmission and movement of ancient human populations.


We have studied the genetic variation of human T-cell leukemia/lymphoma virus type I (HTLV-I) isolates in the same individuals over time, as well as of HTLV-I isolates from various parts of the world. The viral DNA fragment studied encodes the carboxy terminus of gp46 and almost all of gp21, both of which are envelope glycoproteins. Samples were obtained from native inhabitants of five African countries, two South American countries, China, the French West Indies, and Haiti and included 14 patients with tropical spastic paraparesis/HTLV-I-associated myelopathy, 10 patients with adult T-cell leukemia, 1 patient with T-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and 3 healthy HTLV-I-seropositive individuals. DNA analyses of HTLV-I sequences demonstrated that (i) little or no genetic variation occurred in vivo in the same individual or in different hosts from the same region carrying the same virus, regardless of their clinical statuses; (ii) changes in nucleotide sequences in some regions of the HTLV-I genome were diagnostic of the geographical origin of the viruses; (iii) HTLV-I sequences from West African countries (Mauritania and Guinea Bissau) and some from the Ivory Coast and Central African Republic were virtually identical to those from the French West Indies, Haiti, French Guyana, and Peru, strongly suggesting that at least some HTLV-I strains were introduced into the New World through infected individuals during the slave trade events; and (iv) the Zairian HTLV-I isolates represent a separate HTLV-I cluster, in which intrastrain variability was also observed, and are more divergent from the other HTLV-I isolates. Because of the low genetic variability of HTLV-I in vivo, the study of the proviral DNA sequence in selected populations of infected individuals will increase our knowledge of the origin and evolution of HTLV-I and might be useful in anthropological studies.

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