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Blood. 2011 Mar 17;117(11):3113-22. doi: 10.1182/blood-2010-10-312926. Epub 2011 Jan 12.

The host genomic environment of the provirus determines the abundance of HTLV-1-infected T-cell clones.

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Department of Immunology, Wright-Fleming Institute, Imperial College London, London, UK.


Human T-lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1) persists by driving clonal proliferation of infected T lymphocytes. A high proviral load predisposes to HTLV-1-associated diseases. Yet the reasons for the variation within and between persons in the abundance of HTLV-1-infected clones remain unknown. We devised a high-throughput protocol to map the genomic location and quantify the abundance of > 91,000 unique insertion sites of the provirus from 61 HTLV-1(+) persons and > 2100 sites from in vitro infection. We show that a typical HTLV-1-infected host carries between 500 and 5000 unique insertion sites. We demonstrate that negative selection dominates during chronic infection, favoring establishment of proviruses integrated in transcriptionally silenced DNA: this selection is significantly stronger in asymptomatic carriers. We define a parameter, the oligoclonality index, to quantify clonality. The high proviral load characteristic of HTLV-1-associated inflammatory disease results from a larger number of unique insertion sites than in asymptomatic carriers and not, as previously thought, from a difference in clonality. The abundance of established HTLV-1 clones is determined by genomic features of the host DNA flanking the provirus. HTLV-1 clonal expansion in vivo is favored by orientation of the provirus in the same sense as the nearest host gene.

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