Blood samples from native Indians in the Kararao village (Kayapo), were analysed using serological and molecular methods to characterize infection and analyse transmission of HTLV-II. Specific reactivity was observed in 3/26 individuals, of which two samples were from a mother and child. RFLP analysis of the pX and env regions confirmed HTLV-II infection. Nucleotide sequence of the 5' LTR segment and phylogenetic analysis showed a high similarity (98%) between the three samples and prototype HTLV-IIa (Mot), and confirmed the occurrence of the HTLV-IIc subtype. There was a high genetic similarity (99.9%) between the mother and child samples and the only difference was a deletion of two nucleotides (TC) in the mother sequence. Previous epidemiological studies among native Indians from Brazil have provided evidence of intrafamilial and vertical transmission of HTLV-IIc. The present study now provides molecular evidence of mother-to-child transmission of HTLV-IIc, a mechanism that is in large part responsible for the endemicity of HTLV in these relatively closed populations. Although the actual route of transmission is unknown, breast feeding would appear to be most likely
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