The human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I (HTLV-I) is causally associated with adult T-cell leukemia, but its role in mycosis fungoides (MF) has remained enigmatic. The virus is suspect because a small percentage of patients with MF have antibodies to it, the cells of others harbor deleted HTLV-I proviral sequences, and particles resembling HTLV-I emerge in cultured blood lymphocytes obtained from most patients. An alternative possibility is that disparate lymphotropic retroviruses may infect or affect a population of epidermotropic lymphocytes, leading to the same outcome, ie, MF. In studies designed to identify the particles detected in lymphocyte cultures of nine patients with a diagnosis of skin involvement characteristic of MF, this concept has gained support. While the cells of four patients provided evidence of HTLV-I infection, molecular hybridization with HTLV-II-specific pol probes showed HTLV-II in the cells of another patient. The 103-bp fragment amplified by the HTLV-II- specific probe was sequenced and proved to have greater than 90% homology with the same fragment amplified from cells known to be infected with HTLV-II. A role for HTLV-II in MF has not been suggested heretofore. Therefore, HTLV-I, HTLV-II, and their incomplete forms may be found in cells of MF patients, suggesting new theories regarding the pathogenesis of this disease.

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