Human T-cell lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1) is associated with a chronic neurological disease termed HTLV-1-associated myelopathy/tropical spastic paraperesis (HAM/TSP). Although the pathogenesis of this disease remains to be elucidated, the evidence suggests that immunopathological mechanisms are involved. Since HTLV-1 tax mRNA was colocalized with glial acidic flibrillary protein, a marker for astrocytes, we developed an in vitro model to assess whether HTLV-1 infection activates astrocytes to secrete cytokines or present viral immunodominant epitopes to virus-specific T cells. Two human astrocytic glioma cell lines, U251 and U373, were transfected with the 3' portion of the HTLV-1 genome and with the HTLV-1 tax gene under astrocyte-specific promoter control. In this study, we report that Tax- expressing astrocytic glioma transfectants activate the expression of tumor necrosis factor alpha mRNA in vitro. Furthermore, these Tax-expressing glioma transfectants can serve as immunological targets for HTLV-1-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL). We propose that these events could contribute to the neuropathology of HAM/TSP, since infected astrocytes can become a source for inflammatory cytokines upon HTLV-1 infection and serve as targets for HTLV-1-specific CTL, resulting in parenchymal damage by direct lysis and/or cytokine release.
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