Human T cell leukemia virus type-1 (HTLV-1) was the first retrovirus found to cause cancer in humans, but the mechanisms that drive the development of leukemia and other diseases associated with HTLV-1 infection remain to be fully understood. This review describes the functional properties of p13, an 87-amino acid protein coded by HTLV-1 open reading frame II (orf-II). p13 is mainly localized in the inner membrane of the mitochondria, where it induces potassium (K+) influx and reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, which can trigger either proliferation or apoptosis, depending on the ROS setpoint of the cell. Recent evidence indicates that p13 may influence the cell's innate immune response to viral infection and the infected cell phenotype. Association of the HTLV-1 transcriptional activator, Tax, with p13 increases p13's stability, leads to its partial co-localization with Tax in nuclear speckles, and reduces the ability of Tax to interact with the transcription cofactor CBP/p300. Comparison of p13 sequences isolated from HTLV-1-infected individuals revealed a small number of amino acid variations in the domains controlling the subcellular localization of the protein. Disruptive mutations of p13 were found in samples obtained from asymptomatic patients with low proviral load. p13 sequences of HTLV-1 subtype C isolates from indigenous Australian patients showed a high degree of identity among each other, with all samples containing a pattern of 5 amino acids that distinguished them from other subtypes. Further characterization of p13's functional properties and sequence variants may lead to a deeper understanding of the impact of p13 as a contributor to the clinical manifestations of HTLV-1 infection.
Keywords: Cell death; HTLV-1; HTLV-1C; Human T cell leukemia virus type-1; Mitochondria; p13.