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Blood. 2001 Feb 15;97(4):987-93.

Existence of escape mutant in HTLV-I tax during the development of adult T-cell leukemia.

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Third Department of Internal Medicine and the Center for Chronic Viral Diseases, Faculty of Medicine, Kagoshima University, Kagoshima, Japan.


Although Tax protein is the main target of cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) on human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I (HTLV-I)-infected cells, and Tax peptide 11 through 19 binding to HLA-A*02 has been shown to elicit a strong CTL response, there are patients with adult T-cell leukemia (ATL) bearing HLA-A*02. To explore whether there is genetic variation in HTLV-I tax that can escape CTL recognition during the development of ATL, the HTLV-I tax gene was sequenced in 55 patients with ATL, 61 patients with HTLV-I-associated myelopathy/tropical spastic paraparesis (HAM/TSP), and 62 healthy carriers, and it was correlated with the presence of HLA-A*02. First, a premature stop codon in the 5' half of the tax gene that looses transactivation activity on the viral enhancer was observed in 3 patients with acute and 1 patient with chronic ATL. This stop codon was revealed to emerge after the viral transmission to the patient from sequence analysis in family members with ATL. Second, amino acid change in Tax peptide 11-19 was observed in 3 patients with ATL. CTL assays demonstrated that this altered Tax 11-19 peptide, observed in ATL patients with HLA-A*02, was not recognized by Tax 11-19-specific CTL. Two patients with ATL had large deletions in tax by sequencing, and 5 patients with ATL had deletions in HTLV-I by Southern blotting. These findings suggest that at some stage of ATL development, HTLV-I-infected cells that can escape the host immune system are selected and have a chance to accumulate genetic alterations for further malignant transformation, leading to acute ATL.

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