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Front Microbiol. 2019 Apr 26;10:819. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2019.00819. eCollection 2019.

HTLV-1 HBZ Protein Resides Exclusively in the Cytoplasm of Infected Cells in Asymptomatic Carriers and HAM/TSP Patients.

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Laboratories of General Pathology and Immunology "Giovanna Tosi," Department of Medicine and Surgery, School of Medicine, University of Insubria, Varese, Italy.
INSERM U1016, CNRS UMR 8104, Université Paris Descartes, Sorbonne Paris Cité, Institut Cochin, Paris, France.
Viral Immunology Section, Neuroimmunology Branch, NINDS/NIH, Bethesda, MD, United States.


Human T cell lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1) is the causative agent of adult T cell leukemia/lymphoma (ATL) and HTLV-1-associated myelopathy/tropical spastic paraparesis (HAM/TSP) in a subset of infected subjects. Two viral proteins, Tax-1 and HTLV-1 basic leucine zipper factor (HBZ), play important roles in the pathogenesis of both diseases. We recently demonstrated that HBZ, previously considered a nuclear protein, is exclusively localized in the cytoplasm of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) of HAM/TSP patients. Here, the analysis of a larger panel of HAM/TSP cases confirmed that HBZ is a cytoplasmic protein, while Tax-1 preferentially localized in the cytoplasm with fewer speckle-like dots in the nucleus. More importantly, here we report for the first time that HBZ, when expressed in asymptomatic carriers (AC), is also confined in the cytoplasm. Similarly, Tax-1 was preferentially expressed in the cytoplasm in a significant proportion of AC. Interestingly, in both HAM/TSP and AC patients, the expression of HBZ and Tax-1 was rarely found in the same cell. We observed only few cases coexpressing the two oncoprotein in a very limited number of cells. In representative AC and HAM/TSP patients, cells expressing cytoplasmic HBZ were almost exclusively found in the CD4+ T cell compartment and very rarely in CD8+ T cells. Interestingly, at least in the cases analyzed, the expression of thymocite-expressed molecule involved in selection (THEMIS) is dispensable for the cytoplasmic localization of HBZ in both AC and HAM/TSP. The study of an HTLV-1-immortalized cell line established from an HAM/TSP patient confirmed HBZ as a resident cytoplasmic protein not shuttling between the cytoplasm and nucleus. These results extend our previous observation on the dichotomy of HBZ localization between HAM/TSP and ATL, pointing to the exclusive either cytoplasmic or nuclear localization in the two diseased states, respectively. Moreover, they show a rather selective expression in distinct cells of either HBZ or Tax-1. The unprecedented observation that HBZ is expressed only in the cytoplasm in AC strongly suggests a progressive modification of HBZ localization during the disease states associated to HTLV-1 infection. Future studies will clarify whether the distinct HBZ intracellular localization is a marker or a causative event of disease evolution.


HAM/TSP; HBZ; HTLV-1; Tax-1; asymptomatic carriers

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