AIMS: To study the expression of the human T lymphotropic virus (HTLV) Tax gene in peripheral blood mononuclear cells. METHODS: Blood was collected from 72 patients with lymphoproliferative disorders. Serum from all patients was assayed for antibodies directed against HTLV-I structural proteins by ELISA and western blotting. RNA was purified from fresh blood cells and amplified by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). After Southern blotting, the PCR products were hybridised with a 32P end-labelled probe specific for the Tax gene. RESULTS: All samples were seronegative. A specific band for the Tax gene was found in five samples. Each of the patients positive for Tax gene expression had a different type of lymphoproliferative disorder. CONCLUSIONS: Infection by HTLV-I cannot be assessed solely by immunological assays, particularly when only disrupted virions are used. Sensitive molecular biology assays are essential for detecting viral gene expression in fresh blood cells.
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