The proviral DNA of human T-cell lymphotrophic virus type I (HTLV-I) is known to be integrated monoclonally in the malignant cells of adult T- cell leukemia/lymphoma (ATL), which is a peripheral T-cell malignancy caused by this virus. We studied the relationship between the integration patterns of HTLV-I and clinical characteristics in 89 patients with ATL. The proviral DNA of HTLV-I was examined by the standard Southern blot analysis using the endonucleases EcoRI and Pst I. One clear band of greater than 9 kb was detected in most of the patients (83 case) when cellular DNA was digested with EcoRI. On the other hand, extraordinary integration patterns of HTLV-I proviral DNA were detected in 6 patients; 3 of them showed two bands, while the other 3 showed one band smaller than 9 kb. When cellular DNA was digested with PstI, the band patterns of these patients were quite different from those of typical patients. The patients with the extraordinary integration patterns had clinical characteristics dissimilar to those of the other 83 patients with the ordinary integration pattern. The patients with two bands by EcoRI digestion always had severe hypoxemia with extremely high levels of serum lactate dehydrogenase at first presentation and showed peculiar organ infiltrations, such as retina and muscle, which were less frequent in the other ordinary 83 patients. They all died within 8 months after the onset. In contrast, the patients with one smaller band by EcoRI digestion always had small and mature T lymphocytes with bilobulated nuclei without lymphadenopathy and showed a favorable clinical course, which was uncommon in the ordinary cases. They were alive 20 to 38 months after diagnosis. Rearranged bands of the T-cell receptor gene were detected in all patients with unusual integration. These findings indicate that the integration patterns of HTLV-I proviral DNA have a clinical implication and may be one of the explanations for heterogeneity in the behavior of this disease.

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