Immunocytochemical staining of spinal cords from five autopsied patients with HAM/TSP was performed using a panel of monoclonal antibodies reactive with T cells. T cell subsets, B cells, macrophages, natural killer cells, IL-2 receptor-positive cells, and HLA-ABC and HLA-DR. In the spinal cords of patients with a shorter duration of illness, CD4+ cells, CD8+ cells and macrophages were evenly distributed in active-chronic inflammatory lesions. In striking contrast, we noted the predominance of CD8+ cells over CD4+ cells in the inactive-chronic inflammatory lesions of patients with longer duration of illness. Natural killer cells, IL-2 receptor-positive cells and B cells were only rarely present in both the active-chronic and inactive-chronic lesions. HLA-ABC was positive in endothelial cells and infiltrating mononuclear cells, and HLA-DR was positive in endothelial cells, microglia and infiltrating mononuclear cells. This study suggests that immune responses in the spinal cord lesions of HAM patients gradually change along with the duration of illness.