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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1991 Feb 15;88(4):1182-6.

Sexual transmission of human T-cell leukemia virus type I associated with the presence of anti-Tax antibody.

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  • 1Department of Cancer Biology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115.


The tax gene product (Tax protein) of human T-cell leukemia virus type I (HTLV-I) is a specific transcriptional activator of the viral long terminal repeat sequence and is essential for the replication cycle of the virus. To elucidate the relationship between the presence of anti-Tax antibody and the transmission of the viral infection, annual consecutive serum samples from married couples serologically discordant or concordant for HTLV-I were examined. These included 5 individuals whose spouses seroconverted during this 5-year follow-up study period. The samples were tested by a Western blot assay using a recombinant Tax protein as the antigen. The results showed that 24 of 32 (75%) men in the concordant couples (both husband and wife were HTLV-I carriers) had anti-Tax antibody, while only 5 of 18 (27.8%) men in the discordant couples (husband was carrier and wife was seronegative to HTLV-I) were positive for anti-Tax antibody (P = 0.0012). Furthermore, all spouses of the 5 seroconverters (4 women and 1 man) had anti-Tax antibody, while only 23 of 46 (50%) age-matched randomly selected HTLV-I carriers from the discordant-couple group had anti-Tax antibody. When the data were analyzed by gender, all husbands of the female seroconverters had anti-Tax antibodies, which was significantly higher than the prevalence of anti-Tax antibodies in men who did not transmit the virus to their spouses during the follow-up period (P = 0.017). In addition, antibody reactivity to other HTLV-I antigens (including Env gp46, transmembrane protein gp21, and Gag p19 and p24) were examined. The results indicated no significant differences between the prevalence of antibody reactivity to any of the antigens in the spouses of the seroconverters and the reference group. We conclude that the presence of anti-Tax antibody in men may indicate a high risk of viral transmission to their wives via heterosexual routes.

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