PLoS pathogens 2018 02 1414(2) e1006861 doi 10.1371/journal.ppat.1006861
Adult T-cell leukaemia/lymphoma (ATL) arises from chronic non-malignant human T lymphotropic virus type-1 (HTLV-1) infection which is characterized by high plasma pro-inflammatory cytokines whereas ATL is characterized by high plasma anti-inflammatory (IL-10) concentrations. The poor prognosis of ATL is partly ascribed to disease-associated immune suppression. ATL cells have a CD4+CCR4+CD26-CD7- immunophenotype but infected cells with this immunophenotype (‘ATL-like’ cells) are also present in non-malignant HTLV-1 infection. We hypothesized that ‘ATL-like’ and ATL cells have distinct cytokine producing capacity and a switch in the cytokines produced occurs during leukemogenesis. Seventeen asymptomatic carriers (ACs), 28 patients with HTLV-1-associated myelopathy (HAM) and 28 with ATL were studied. Plasma IL-10 concentration and the absolute frequency of IL-10-producing CD4+ T cells were significantly higher in patients with ATL compared to AC. IL-10-producing ATL cells were significantly more frequent than ‘ATL-like’ cells. The cytokine-producing cells were only a small fraction of ATL cells. Clonality analysis revealed that even in patients with ATL the ATL cells were composed not only of a single dominant clone (putative ATL cells) but also tens of non-dominant infected clones (‘ATL-like’ cells). The frequency of cytokine-producing cells showed a strong inverse correlation with the relative abundance of the largest clone in ATL cells suggesting that the putative ATL cells were cytokine non-producing and that the ‘ATL-like’ cells were the primary cytokine producers. These findings were confirmed by RNAseq with cytokine mRNA expression in ATL cells in patients with ATL (confirmed to be composed of both putative ATL and ‘ATL-like’ cells by TCR analysis) significantly lower compared to ‘ATL-like’ cells in patients with non-malignant HTLV-1 infection (confirmed to be composed of hundreds of non-dominant clones by TCR analysis). A significant inverse correlation between the relative abundance of the largest clone and cytokine mRNA expression was also confirmed. Finally, ‘ATL-like’ cells produced less pro- and more anti-inflammatory cytokines than non ‘ATL-like’ CD4+ cells (which are predominantly HTLV uninfected). In summary, HTLV-1 infection of CD4+ T cells is associated with a change in cytokine producing capacity and dominant malignant clonal growth is associated with loss of cytokine producing capacity. Non-dominant clones with ‘ATL-like’ cells contribute to plasma cytokine profile in patients with non-malignant HTLV-1 infection and are also present in patient with ATL.