Polymorphisms in HTLV-1 Tax-responsive elements in HTLV-1-associated myelopathy/tropical spastic paraparesis patients are associated with reduced proviral load but not with disease progression
Human T-lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1) provirus expression is mainly directed by Tax-responsive elements (TRE) within the long terminal repeats (LTR). Mutations in TRE can reduce provirus expression and since a high proviral load (PVL) is a risk factor for the development of HTLV-1-associated myelopathy/tropical spastic paraparesis (HAM/TSP), we evaluated polymorphisms in the 5′ LTR and the association with PVL and disease progression. HTLV-1 LTR and tax sequences derived from asymptomatic carriers (AC) and HAM/TSP patients followed in a longitudinal study were analysed according to PVL and clinical severity. Individuals infected with HTLV-1 presenting the canonical TRE, considering strain ATK-1 as the consensus, displayed sustained higher PVL. By contrast, an LTR A125G mutation in TRE was associated with slightly reduced PVL only in HAM/TSP patients, although it did not influence the speed of disease progression. Moreover, this polymorphism was frequent in Latin American strains of the HTLV-1 Cosmopolitan Transcontinental subtype. Therefore, polymorphisms in the 5′ TRE of HTLV-1 may represent one of the factors influencing PVL in HAM/TSP patients, especially in the Latin American population. Indeed, higher PVL in the peripheral blood has been associated with an increased inflammatory activity in the spinal cord and to a poorer prognosis in HAM/TSP. However, this event was not associated with TRE polymorphisms.