J Neurovirol. 2022 Jul 30. doi: 10.1007/s13365-022-01088-x. Online ahead of print.
Up to 3.8% of human T-lymphotropic virus type-1 (HTLV-1)-infected asymptomatic carriers (AC) eventually develop HTLV-1-associated myelopathy (HAM). HAM occurs in patients with high (> 1%) HTLV proviral load (PVL). However, this cut-off includes more than 50% of ACs and therefore the risk needs to be refined. As HAM is additionally characterised by an inflammatory response to HTLV-1, markers of T cell activation (TCA), β2-microglobulin (β2M) and neuronal damage were accessed for the identification of ACs at high risk of HAM. Retrospective analysis of cross-sectional and longitudinal routine clinical data examining differences in TCA (CD4/CD25, CD4/HLA-DR, CD8/CD25 & CD8/HLA-DR), β2M and neurofilament light (NfL) in plasma in ACs with high or low PVL and patients with HAM. Comparison between 74 low PVL ACs, 84 high PVL ACs and 58 patients with HAM revealed a significant, stepwise, increase in TCA and β2M. Construction of receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves for each of these blood tests generated a profile that correctly identifies 88% of patients with HAM along with 6% of ACs. The 10 ACs with this ‘HAM-like’ profile had increased levels of NfL in plasma and two developed myelopathy during follow-up, compared to none of the 148 without this viral-immune-phenotype. A viral-immuno-phenotype resembling that seen in patients with HAM identifies asymptomatic carriers who are at increased risk of developing HAM and have markers of subclinical neuronal damage.