Human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I (HTLV-I) proviral integration status was examined by Southern blot analysis in peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) DNA from patients presenting a tropical spastic paraparesis (TSP) and serological evidence of HTLV-I infection. Surface phenotype and morphological aspects of PBMC were also studied. A polyclonal HTLV-I proviral integration was found in the PBMC of the 10 patients studied irrespective of their geographical origin (French West Indies, French Guiana, and Africa), the duration of their clinical illness, or the HTLV-I antibody titer. Furthermore, by dilution experiments and hypothesizing that only one copy of HTLV-I proviral DNA is present in one cell, we estimated that this HTLV-I integration is present in 3% to 15% of their PBMC. All 10 TSP/HTLV-I patients studied had an average of 10% of their lymphocytes abnormal, presenting either a misshapen nucleus or an adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma (ATL)-like feature. Moreover, an elevated CD4/CD8 ratio associated with the presence of activated T cells with a high level of DR expression was observed in most patients. The significant frequency of viral-positive PBMC and the important load of HTLV-I proviral DNA that we observed in TSP/HTLV-I patients might play an important role in the pathogenesis of this recently identified clinico-virological entity.

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