The human T-cell lymphotropic viruses type I and type II are closely related human retroviruses that have similar biological properties, genetic organization and tropism for T lymphocytes. Along with the simian T-cell lymphoma virus type I, they define the group of retroviruses known as the primate T-cell leukemia/lymphoma viruses. Initially identified in 1980, the human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I has been implicated as the etiologic agent of adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma and of a degenerative neurologic disorder known as tropical spastic paraparesis or human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I-associated myelopathy. The intriguing link between human T-cell lymphotropic virus type, T-cell malignancy, and a totally unrelated and non-overlapping neurological disorder suggests divergent and unique pathogenetic mechanisms. This review will address the epidemiology, molecular biology, and pathogenesis of human T-cell leukemia viruses.