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J Virol. 1993 Sep;67(9):5529-37.

Human T-cell leukemia virus type I-induced proliferation of human immature CD2+CD3- thymocytes.

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Immuno-Virologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire, UMR30, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique/Université Claude Bernard Lyon I, Faculté de Médecine A. Carrel, Lyon, France.


The mitogenic activity of human T-cell leukemia virus type I (HTLV-I) is triggering the proliferation of human resting T lymphocytes through the induction of the interleukin-2 (IL-2)/IL-2 receptor autocrine loop. This HTLV-I-induced proliferation was found to be mainly mediated by the CD2 T-cell antigen, which is first expressed on double-negative lymphoid precursors after colonization of the thymus. Thus, immature thymocytes express the CD2 antigen before that of the CD3-TCR complex. We therefore investigated the responsiveness of these CD2+CD3- immature thymocytes and compared it with that of unseparated thymocytes, containing a majority of the CD2+CD3+ mature thymocytes, and that of the CD2-CD3- prothymocytes. Both immature and unseparated thymocytes were incorporating [3H]thymidine in response to the virus, provided that they were cultivated in the presence of submitogenic doses of phytohemagglutinin. In contrast, the prothymocytes did not proliferate. Downmodulation of the CD2 molecule by incubating unseparated and immature thymocytes with a single anti-CD2 monoclonal antibody inhibited the proliferative response to HTLV-I. These results clearly underline that the expression of the CD2 molecule is exclusively required in mediating the proliferative response to the synergistic effect of phytohemagglutinin and HTLV-I. Immature thymocytes treated with a pair of anti-CD2 monoclonal antibodies were shown to proliferate in response to HTLV-I, even in the absence of exogenous IL-2. We further verified that the proliferation of human thymocytes is consecutive to the expression of IL-2 receptors and the synthesis of IL-2. These observations provide evidence that the mitogenic stimulus delivered by HTLV-I is more efficient than that provided by other conventional mitogenic stimuli, which are unable to trigger the synthesis of endogenous IL-2. Collectively, these results show that the mitogenic activity of HTLV-I is able to trigger the proliferation of cells which are at an early stage of T-cell development. They might therefore represent target cells in which HTLV-I infection could favor the initiation of the multistep lymphoproliferative process leading to adult T-cell leukemia.

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