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Blood. 1997 Sep 1;90(5):1977-81.

Seroreactivity to an envelope protein of human T-cell leukemia/lymphoma virus in patients with CD3- (natural killer) lymphoproliferative disease of granular lymphocytes.

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Veteran's Administration Hospital and the Department of Medicine, State University of New York, Syracuse, USA.


Natural killer (NK) cells are CD3- large granular lymphocytes (LGL) responsible for immunity against viral infections. A chronic lymphoproliferative disorder of NK cells has been described in which the expanded NK cells display a restricted phenotype and cytotoxic activity. These data raise the hypothesis that proliferating LGL in these patients result from discrete expansions of NK cells responding to an unknown, perhaps viral, antigen. Recently, it was found that mice transgenic for the tax gene of human T-cell leukemia/lymphoma virus (HTLV) develop NK leukemia. Therefore, we studied 15 patients with chronic NK lymphoproliferative disorder for evidence of HTLV infection. Sera were tested using an HTLV-I/II-enzyme linked immunosorbent assay and a modified Western blot assay containing recombinant env proteins. None of the sera met conventional criteria for HTLV seroreactivity. However, sera from 11 patients (73%) reacted with the recombinant HTLV env protein p21E. The anti-p21E reactivity of these sera was then mapped employing the recombinant proteins GD21 and BA21. No reactivity to the immunodominant HTLV epitope GD21 was observed, suggesting that prototypical HTLV infection is unlikely in these patients. This was confirmed by finding no evidence for HTLV nucleic acids by PCR analyses employing primers specific for conserved regions in the env, pol, and pX genes. In contrast, 10 of the 15 sera reacted with the epitope BA21, documenting for the first time an association between a unique seroreactivity and disease. The high incidence of BA21 seroreactivity in these patients suggests that exposure to a protein containing homology to BA21 may be important in the pathogenesis of this lymphoproliferative disorder.

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