We studied the relationship between antibody titers to recombinant HTLV-I p40tax protein and gag-env hybrid protein in serum (by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) and HTLV-I proviral DNA load in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (by a quantitative polymerase chain reaction method) in 18 patients with HTLV-I-associated myelopathy (HAM)/tropical spastic paraparesis (TSP), 17 HTLV-I carriers without HAM/TSP and 16 HTLV-I uninfected controls. The IgG and IgA antibody titers to either of the proteins correlated significantly with the HTLV-I pX (coding p40tax protein) and pol DNA amounts in HTLV-I infected subjects. HAM/TSP patients had significantly higher titers of IgG and IgA antibodies to the HTLV-I proteins than did the HTLV-I carriers without HAM/TSP. While the IgM antibodies to the HTLV-I proteins were found in only 6% of HTLV-I carriers without HAM/TSP, they were found in 40% of HAM/TSP patients, especially those having both a high HTLV-I proviral DNA load and high titers of the IgG and IgA antibodies. HAM/TSP patients with the IgM antibodies had a tendency to deteriorate more frequently on the Kurtzke's disability status scale and magnetic resonance imaging of the brain (leukoencephalopathy) than did those without in the two-year follow-up. Thus, the presence of IgM antibody and high titers of IgG and IgA antibodies to the HTLV-I proteins, together with the increased HTLV-I proviral DNA load, appears to distinguish HAM/TSP patients from HTLV-I carriers without HAM/TSP.
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