Human T-cell leukemia virus type I (HTLV-1) is the etiologic agent of adult T-cell leukemia and lymphoma and HTLV-1-associated myelopathy-tropical spastic paraparesis. We examined whether HTLV could productively infect human hematopoietic progenitor cells. CD34+ cells were enriched from human fetal liver cells and cocultivated with cell lines transformed with HTLV-1 and -2. HTLV-1 infection was established in between 10 and >95% of the enriched CD34+ cell population, as demonstrated by quantitative PCR analysis. HTLV-1 p19 Gag expression was also detected in infected hematopoietic progenitor cells. HTLV-1-infected hematopoietic progenitor cells were cultured in semisolid medium permissive for the development of erythbroid (BFU-E), myeloid (CFU-GM), and primitive progenitor (CFU-GEMM, HPP-CFC, or CFU-A) colonies. HTLV-1 sequences were detected in colonies of all hematopoietic lineages; furthermore, the ratio of HTLV genomes to the number of human cells in each infected colony was 1:1, consistent with each colony arising from a single infected hematopoietic progenitor cell. Severe combined immunodeficient mice engrafted with human fetal thymus and liver tissues (SCID-hu) develop a conjoint organ which supports human thymocyte differentiation and maturation. Inoculation of SCID-hu mice with HTLV-1-infected T cells or enriched populations of CD34+ cells established viral infection of thymocytes 4 to 6 weeks postreconstitution. Thymocytes from two mice with the greatest HTLV-1 proviral burdens showed increased expression of the CD25 marker and the interleukin 2 receptor alpha chain and perturbation of CD4+ and CD8+ thymocyte subset distribution profiles. Hematopoietic progenitor cells and thymuses may be targets for HTLV infection in humans, and these events may play a role in the pathogenesis associated with infection
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