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Molecular Epidemiology of Human T-Lymphotropic Virus Type II Infection in Amerindian and Urban Populations of the Amazon Region of Brazil

Molecular characterization of human T-cell lymphotropic virus II (HTLV-II) isolates in North America and Europe has shown the existence of two principal subtypes of the virus, HTLV-IIa and HTLV-IIb. Subsequent studies on HTLV-II isolates from Brazil have suggested the existence of a unique variant phylogenetically related to HTLV-IIa but phenotypically similar to HTLV-IIb with respect to the transactivatory protein, Tax. This variant has been designated HTLV-IIc. To better clarify the variability and distribution of HTLV-II in Brazil, the viruses present in two population groups from the Amazon region were tested for the presence of HTLV-II using serological and molecular assays. The groups consisted of blood donors from three Amerindian communities and of HIV-1/HTLV-II coinfected patients residing in Belém, an urban area. Nucleotide sequences and phylogenetic analysis confirmed the presence of HTLV-IIc subtype among Amerindian populations and, for the first time, the presence of the same virus among urban groups in Belém. The isolated occurrence of the HTLV-IIc subtype among Amerindian populations in the Amazon region could be attributed to (1) the different migratory pathways and founder effect, or (2) the local origin of a proto-HTLV-II carried by Amerindian ancestors who migrated to the Amazon circa 11,000 to 13,000 years ago. These results suggest that not only is HTLV-IIc unique to this region, but that its presence in urban areas of Brazil has resulted from admixture processes during the colonization of the country.