Blood Cancer J. 2023 May 3;13(1):67. doi: 10.1038/s41408-023-00841-7.
Adult T cell leukemia/lymphoma (ATL) is an aggressive malignancy secondary to chronic infection with human T cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1). The viral oncoprotein Tax initiates T cell transformation through activation of critical cellular pathways, including NF-κB. Unexpectedly, Tax protein is not detectable in most ATL cells, in contrast to the HTLV-1 HBZ protein which antagonizes Tax effects. Here, we demonstrate that primary ATL cells from patients with acute or chronic ATL express very low levels of Tax mRNA and protein. Critically, survival of these primary ATL cells is dependent on continued Tax expression. Mechanistically, Tax extinction results in reversal of NF-κB activation, P53/PML activation and apoptosis. Tax drives interleukin-10 (IL-10) expression and recombinant IL-10 rescues the survival of tax-depleted primary ATL cells. These results demonstrate the critical role of continued Tax and IL-10 expression for the survival of primary ATL cells, highlighting their relevance as therapeutic targets.