Proviral DNA was obtained from peripheral blood mononuclear cells of 75 human T cell leukaemia/lymphoma virus type I (HTLV-I)-infected individuals who were either asymptomatic or had adult T cell leukaemia or tropical spastic paraparesis/HTLV-I-associated myelopathy. Amplified long terminal repeats (LTRs) were analysed for restriction fragment length polymorphisms (RFLPs). The results, together with previously published LTR data (a total of 180 specimens analysed), showed the presence of 12 different RFLP profiles with four major molecular subtypes. Furthermore, a fragment of 413 bp (nucleotides 22 to 434) of the U3/R region was sequenced for 12 new HTLV-I specimens originating from Central and West Africa (8 cases), Iran (1 case), Caribbean (2 cases) and Reunion Island (1 case). Phylogenetic analysis using three different techniques (maximum parsimony, neighbour-joining and UPGMA) comparing these 12 strains (including four new African HTLV-I variants) with the 30 published partial HTLV-I LTR sequences (nt 120 to 434) showed the existence of clusters of molecular variants in discrete geographical areas. The topology of the phylogenetic trees is thought to reflect HTLV-I evolution and the migrations of virally infected populations in the recent or distant past. Furthermore, there was a nearly perfect concordance between the clustering based on the LTR sequence homologies and the LTR RFLP subtypes suggesting that this rapid and simple technique is well suited to the investigation of HTLV-I molecular epidemiology. These results allow a new phylogenetic classification of HTLV-I genotypes into five major molecular subtypes:Cosmopolitan (C) subtype widespread all over the world, Japanese (J) subtype, West African (WA) subtype, Central African (CA) subtype and Melanesian (M) subtype.


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