Human T-cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1) causes T-cell malignancies in a small percentage of the population infected with the virus after a long carrier state. In the present study, we established a seronegative HTLV-1 carrier state in rats inoculated with a newly established HTLV-1-infected rat T cell line, FPM1. FPM1 originated from rat thymocytes cocultured with a human HTLV-1 producer, MT-2 cells, and expressed rat CD4, CD5, CD25, and HTLV-1 Tax. However, FPM1 scarcely expressed other major HTLV-1 structural proteins and failed to induce typical antibody responses against HTLV-1 in inoculated rats. In contrast, control rats inoculated with MT-2 cells generated significant levels of anti-HTLV-1 antibodies. HTLV-1 proviruses were detected in peripheral blood cells of syngeneic rats inoculated with FPM1 for more than 1 year. Analysis of the flanking region of HTLV-1 provirus integrated into host cells suggested that FPM1 cells remained in these animals over a relatively long period of time. However, a similar seronegative HTLV-1 carrier state was induced in the rats inoculated with mitomycin C-treated FPM1 cells and also in FPM1-inoculated allogeneic rats, suggesting that FPM1 could also transmit HTLV-1 into host cells in vivo. Our findings indicated that (i) HTLV-1-immortalized T cells which preferentially express HTLV-1 Tax persisted in vivo but failed to induce any diseases in immunocompetent syngeneic rats and that (ii) suboptimal levels of HTLV-1 for antibody responses allowed the establishment of persistent HTLV-1 infection
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