Identification of the localization of human T lymphotrophic virus type I (HTLV-I) proviral DNA in the central nervous system (CNS) is crucial to the understanding of the pathogenesis of HTLV-I-associated myelopathy (HAM)/tropical spastic paraparesis (TSP) pathogenesis. We have developed a sensitive detection method, called two-step polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in situ hybridization, which enabled us to detect the HTLV-I proviral DNA in paraffin-embedded spinal cord tissue sections from HAM/TSP patients. HTLV-I proviral DNA was detected only in the nucleus of lymphocytes that had infiltrated into the spinal cord. However, no proviral DNA was amplified in any neuronal cells, including neurons and glial cells. This indicates that the demyelination of the spinal cord by HTLV-I as a result of viral infection of oligodendrocytes or neuronal cells is unlikely. The T cell receptor V beta gene sequence from lymphocytes in the spinal cord lesions taken from the same HAM/TSP autopsy cases revealed unique and restricted CDR3 motifs, CASSLXG(G) (one-letter amino acid. X is any amino acid), CASSPT(G), and CASSGRL which are similar to those described in T cells from brain lesions of multiple sclerosis (MS) and in a rat T cell clone derived from experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE) lesions. The present results suggest that T cells containing restricted V beta CDR3 motifs, which are also found in MS and EAE, become activated upon HTLV-I infection and infiltrate into the spinal cord lesions of HAM/TSP patients.

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