Accumulating evidence has suggested the involvement of HTLV-1 in the inflammatory lesions of various organs, including the lung. However, the causal relationship between HTLV-1 and inflammatory responses in the organs remains to be elucidated. In order to evaluate the expression of HTLV-1 and its effects in the lung, we examined the expression of mRNA for the HTLV-1 tax/rex gene in fresh bronchoalveolar lavage cells (BALC) and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) of 23 seropositive individuals, including six patients with HTLV-1-associated myelopathy/tropical spastic paraparesis (HAM/TSP), by use of an improved method of reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). The tax/rex mRNA was more frequently detected in BALC than in PBMC. All the HAM/TSP patients and eight of 17 carriers without neurological symptoms showed the expression of tax/rex mRNA in the BALC. IgM class antibodies to HTLV-1 were preferentially detected in sera of the tax/rex mRNA-positive individuals. The detection of tax/rex mRNA correlated closely with the presence of lymphocytosis accompanied by an elevated proportion of IL-2 receptor-bearing T cells in the BALC. Our findings indicate the crucial role of viral expression in the inflammatory response in the lung in HTLV-1-infected individuals.