We wished to develop criteria for serological confirmation of human T- lymphotropic virus type I (HTLV-I) infection in healthy donors. Selected serum or plasma samples reactive by HTLV-I enzyme immunosorbent assay or gel-agglutination assays with at least one viral- specific band on Western immunoblot (WIB) were tested in six laboratories by four WIBs and four radioimmunoprecipitation assays (RIPAs) for antibodies to HTLV-I proteins encoded by gag (p19 and p24), env (gp46 and/or gp61), and tax (p40x) genes. One hundred forty-two donor sera were obtained from 38 Japanese, 69 American, and 35 Caribbean blood or plasma donors. Among these samples, WIB assays appeared more sensitive to p24 antibodies, whereas RIPAs were significantly more sensitive to gp61 antibodies. All sera (137) with gp61 antibodies had p24 antibodies. Of the 137 sera positive for p24 and gp61 antibodies, p19 antibodies were detected in 129 sera, and p40x antibodies were detected in 108. In sera with p19 antibodies and antibodies to env- or tax-encoded proteins, p24 antibodies were always present. Antibodies to p40x were not found in the absence of gp61 antibodies. Virological evidence of infection was found in seven American donors by lymphocyte coculture (one HTLV-I, one HTLV-II) or by polymerase chain reaction (three HTLV-I, two HTLV-II). Sera from all seven donors showed p24 and gp46 and/or gp61 antibodies. We suggest that seroreactivity to both p24 and gp46 and/or gp61 by WIB or RIPA or both are suitable criteria to confirm but not to distinguish HTLV-I and HTLV-II infections.

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