Human T lymphocyte virus type I (HTLV-I) can be transmitted into several inbred strains of newborn and adult rats by inoculating newly established HTLV-I-immortalized rat T cell lines or the human T cell line MT-2. The transmission efficiency exceeds 80%, regardless of strain differences or the age at transmission. The production of anti-HTLV-I antibodies significantly differs among the strains and depends on the age at the time of transmission. Rats neonatally inoculated with HTLV-I-positive rat or human cells generally become seronegative HTLV-I carriers throughout their lives, whereas adult rats inoculated with HTLV-I-positive cells at 16 wk of age become seropositive HTLV-I carriers. The HTLV-I provirus genome is present in almost all organs, regardless of whether the carriers are seronegative or seropositive. According to antibody titers to HTLV-I, there are three groups of inbred rat strains: ACI, F344, and SDJ (high responders); WKA, BUF, and LEJ (intermediate responders); and LEW (low responder). Three of three 16-mo-old seronegative HTLV-I carrier rats of the WKA strain developed spastic paraparesis of the hind legs. Neuropathological examinations revealed that the lesions were confined primarily to the lateral and anterior funiculi of the spinal cord. Both myelin and axons were extensively damaged in a symmetrical fashion, and infiltration with massive foamy macrophages was evident. The most severe lesions were at levels of the thoracic cord and continued from the cervical to the lumbar area. These histopathological features as well as clinical symptoms largely parallel findings in humans with HTLV-I-associated myelopathy/tropical spastic paraparesis (HAM/TSP). These HTLV-I carrier rats, in particular the WKA rats described above, can serve as a useful animal model for investigating virus-host interactions in the etiopathogenesis of HTLV-I-related immunological diseases, particularly HAM/TSP.

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