Human T-lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1) is linked to multiple diseases, including the neuroinflammatory disease HTLV-1–associated myelopathy/tropical spastic paraparesis (HAM/TSP) and adult T cell leukemia/lymphoma. Evidence suggests that HTLV-1, via the viral protein Tax, exploits CD4+ T cell plasticity and induces transcriptional changes in infected T cells that cause suppressive CD4+CD25+CCR4+ Tregs to lose expression of the transcription factor FOXP3 and produce IFN-γ, thus promoting inflammation. We hypothesized that transformation of HTLV-1–infected CCR4+ T cells into Th1-like cells plays a key role in the pathogenesis of HAM/TSP. Here, using patient cells and cell lines, we demonstrated that Tax, in cooperation with specificity protein 1 (Sp1), boosts expression of the Th1 master regulator T box transcription factor (T-bet) and consequently promotes production of IFN-γ. Evaluation of CSF and spinal cord lesions of HAM/TSP patients revealed the presence of abundant CD4+CCR4+ T cells that coexpressed the Th1 marker CXCR3 and produced T-bet and IFN-γ. Finally, treatment of isolated PBMCs and CNS cells from HAM/TSP patients with an antibody that targets CCR4+ T cells and induces cytotoxicity in these cells reduced both viral load and IFN-γ production, which suggests that targeting CCR4+ T cells may be a viable treatment option for HAM/TSP.


Natsumi Araya, Tomoo Sato, Hitoshi Ando, Utano Tomaru, Mari Yoshida, Ariella Coler-Reilly, Naoko Yagishita, Junji Yamauchi, Atsuhiko Hasegawa, Mari Kannagi, Yasuhiro Hasegawa, Katsunori Takahashi, Yasuo Kunitomo, Yuetsu Tanaka, Toshihiro Nakajima, Kusuki Nishioka, Atae Utsunomiya, Steven Jacobson, Yoshihisa Yamano


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