Molecular epidemiology of HTLV-I in the world

J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr Hum Retrovirol. 1996:13 Suppl 1:S124-31. doi: 10.1097/00042560-199600001-00021.


The geographic distribution of human T-cell lymphotropic/leukemia virus type I (HTLV-I) was initially believed to be limited to southwestern Japan, the Caribbean basin, and Africa. However, extensive searches in recent years have discovered its existence in other areas of the world as well as in isolated, ethnic populations such as South Amerindians, Australo-Melanesian aborigines, religiously segregated Jews, and Pygmies. Previous genetic analyses indicated that HTLV-I can be phylogenetically classified into three major lineages: Melanesian, Central African, and Cosmopolitan groups. Recently, more detailed characterization using long terminal repeat sequences (the most variable genomic region) has revealed that the Cosmopolitan group consists of four subtypes: (A) Transcontinental, (B) Japanese, (C) West African, and (D) North African. Most HTLV-I isolates of the same ethnic group from distant locations and those from different groups inhabiting the same area showed phylogenetic similarities. These observations indicate the present distribution of this virus should be interpreted from the anthropological backgrounds of the virus-possessing populations as well as spatial contact among them. Thus, the molecular epidemiology of HTLV-I and its simian counterpart, STLV-I, provides us with important clues for understanding not only the origin and dissemination of this retrovirus but past human movements over the globe.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Deltaretrovirus Infections / epidemiology
  • HTLV-I Infections / epidemiology*
  • HTLV-I Infections / ethnology*
  • Human T-lymphotropic virus 1 / classification
  • Human T-lymphotropic virus 1 / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Japan
  • Molecular Epidemiology
  • Mutation
  • North America
  • Phylogeny
  • Repetitive Sequences, Nucleic Acid / genetics
  • South America