Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and T-cell lines from patients with Sezary syndrome (SS) and skin lesions from patients with mycosis fungoides (MF) were examined by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for DNA sequences homologous to the human retroviruses human T- lymphotropic virus (HTLV)-I and -II. Results obtained using primers and probes from the tax/rex region of HTLV-I indicate that 72% (18/25) of SS patients PBMCs, 80% (20/25) of T-cell lines established from SS- PBMC, and 30% (3/10) of skin lesions from MF patients were positive for HTLV-I tax/rex region DNA. Sequence analysis of the 127-bp fragment amplified by the tax/rex primers from 4 of these individuals was found to be identical to that in prototypic HTLV-I. Negative results were obtained using primers and probes from the HTLV-I gag region and the HTLV-II gag and tax regions. No PCR products were obtained using all primers and probes using DNA from 9 healthy blood donors and 10 cord bloods. Expression of HTLV-I tax/rex mRNA was found in 4 of 8 Sezary patients, as determined by RNA-PCR, indicating that this viral region is being transcribed in vivo. Exposure to Tax/Rex protein in SS- patients is supported by the fact that serum antibodies against p27rex and p40tax was observed in 43% and 29% of these SS patients, respectively. Although the causal relationship between the HTLV-I tax/rex region and cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL) remains unclear, these findings support the presence of a truncated HTLV-I retrovirus in CTCL patients.