Extracellular Vesicles in HTLV-1 Communication: The Story of an Invisible Messenger

Viruses. 2020 Dec 10;12(12):1422. doi: 10.3390/v12121422.


Human T-cell lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1) infects 5-10 million people worldwide and is the causative agent of adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma (ATLL) and HTLV-1-associated myelopathy/tropical spastic paraparesis (HAM/TSP) as well as other inflammatory diseases. A major concern is that the most majority of individuals with HTLV-1 are asymptomatic carriers and that there is limited global attention by health care officials, setting up potential conditions for increased viral spread. HTLV-1 transmission occurs primarily through sexual intercourse, blood transfusion, intravenous drug usage, and breast feeding. Currently, there is no cure for HTLV-1 infection and only limited treatment options exist, such as class I interferons (IFN) and Zidovudine (AZT), with poor prognosis. Recently, small membrane-bound structures, known as extracellular vesicles (EVs), have received increased attention due to their potential to carry viral cargo (RNA and proteins) in multiple pathogenic infections (i.e., human immunodeficiency virus type I (HIV-1), Zika virus, and HTLV-1). In the case of HTLV-1, EVs isolated from the peripheral blood and cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) of HAM/TSP patients contained the viral transactivator protein Tax. Additionally, EVs derived from HTLV-1-infected cells (HTLV-1 EVs) promote functional effects such as cell aggregation which enhance viral spread. In this review, we present current knowledge surrounding EVs and their potential role as immune-modulating agents in cancer and other infectious diseases such as HTLV-1 and HIV-1. We discuss various features of EVs that make them prime targets for possible vehicles of future diagnostics and therapies.

Keywords: ATLL; EVs; HAM/TSP; HTLV-1; cell-cell contact; extracellular vesicle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Cell Communication*
  • Disease Management
  • Extracellular Vesicles / metabolism*
  • HTLV-I Infections / complications
  • HTLV-I Infections / epidemiology
  • HTLV-I Infections / metabolism
  • HTLV-I Infections / virology*
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions*
  • Human T-lymphotropic virus 1 / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Seroepidemiologic Studies
  • Viral Load


  • Biomarkers