The cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) response to the infection of CD4+ T cells by human T cell leukemia virus type I (HTLV-I) has previously been modelled using standard response functions, with relatively simple dynamical outcomes. In this paper, we investigate the consequences of a more general CTL response and show that a sigmoidal response function gives rise to complex behaviours previously unobserved. Multiple equilibria are shown to exist and none of the equilibria is a global attractor during the chronic infection phase. Coexistence of local attractors with their own basin of attractions is the norm. In addition, both stable and unstable periodic oscillations can be created through Hopf bifurcations. We show that transient periodic oscillations occur when a saddle-type periodic solution exists. As a consequence, transient periodic oscillations can be robust and observable. Implications of our findings to the dynamics of CTL response to HTLV-I infections in vivo and pathogenesis of HAM/TSP are discussed
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