The controversy over the endemicity of human T cell lymphotropic virus type I (HTLV-I) in Melanesia has been settled recently by the isolation of genetically distinct, highly divergent sequence variants of HTLV-I from unrelated inhabitants of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Still at issue, however, is the significance of the high frequency of indeterminate HTLV-I Western blots (defined as reactivity to only -encoded proteins) among Melanesians. To investigate whether this indeterminate seroreactivity reflects specific reactivity to the Melanesian HTLV-I variants, 27 seroindeterminate Melanesians from Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands were studied for evidence of HTLV-I infection. Although antibodies against Melanesian variant-specific gene products and variant-specific gene sequences were detected by Western blot analysis and polymerase chain reaction, respectively, in all 11 HTLV-I Western blot-positive Melanesians, none of the 27 seroindeterminate Melanesians had such variant-specific antibodies or HTLV-I proviral sequences. In addition, attempts to isolate HTLV-I from seroindeterminate individuals were unsuccessful. These data indicate that HTLV-I infection is not the cause of the indeterminate Western blot reactivity seen in Melanesia.


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