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ILAR J. 2016;57(1):3-11. doi: 10.1093/ilar/ilv045.

Animals Models of Human T Cell Leukemia Virus Type I Leukemogenesis.

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Stefan Niewiesk, DVM, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Veterinary Biosciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.


Infection with human T cell leukemia virus type I (HTLV-I) causes adult T cell leukemia (ATL) in a minority of infected individuals after long periods of viral persistence. The various stages of HTLV-I infection and leukemia development are studied by using several different animal models: (1) the rabbit (and mouse) model of persistent HTLV-I infection, (2) transgenic mice to model tumorigenesis by HTLV-I specific protein expression, (3) ATL cell transfers into immune-deficient mice, and (4) infection of humanized mice with HTLV-I. After infection, virus replicates without clinical disease in rabbits and to a lesser extent in mice. Transgenic expression of both the transactivator protein (Tax) and the HTLV-I bZIP factor (HBZ) protein have provided insight into factors important in leukemia/lymphoma development. To investigate factors relating to tumor spread and tissue invasion, a number of immune-deficient mice based on the severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) or non-obese diabetic/SCID background have been used. Inoculation of adult T cell leukemia cell (lines) leads to lymphoma with osteolytic bone lesions and to a lesser degree to leukemia development. These mice have been used extensively for the testing of anticancer drugs and virotherapy. A recent development is the use of so-called humanized mice, which, upon transfer of CD34(+)human umbilical cord stem cells, generate human lymphocytes. Infection with HTLV-I leads to leukemia/lymphoma development, thus providing an opportunity to investigate disease development with the aid of molecularly cloned viruses. However, further improvements of this mouse model, particularly in respect to the development of adaptive immune responses, are necessary.


CD4 T cell; HTLV-I BZIP factor; adult T cell leukemia; human T cell leukemia virus; immune-deficient mice; lymphoma/leukemia; transactivator protein; transgenic mice

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