Study Provides Greater Understanding of How HTLV-1 Can Lead to Adult T-cell Leukemia/Lymphoma

Researchers from both Kumamoto University in Japan and the Imperial College in London have recently completed a research study in adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma (ATL), a rare type of leukemia. They were able to map how exactly a virus called HTLV-1 (human T-cell lymphotrophic virus type 1), a virus similar to HIV, may cause ATL.

Around 5% of patients who have been affected by HTLV-1 eventually develop ATL. This can occur decades after the initial infection. This time delay has made it difficult to understand how T-cells infected by HTLV-1 turn into leukemia cells.

Further, ATL is difficult to treat. There has yet to be a standardized treatment for the advanced form of ATL and recurrence rates are high after standard cancer treatments like chemotherapy.

Through the completion of this mapping, the research team has provided insight into how we may be able to stop the HTLV-1 infection from leading to leukemia in the first place. It could also lead to additional, effective treatment options.

The results of this study were published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation

The Study

In this study, the research team used singe-cell analysis to understand how HTLV-1 activates T lymphocytes and turns them cancerous. They sequenced RNA in 87,000 T cells from healthy participants, healthy individuals who are carriers of HTLV-1, as well as individuals diagnosed with ATL. They then compared the results from each group to determine how HTLV-1 interacts with the T cells in each.

The team found that HTLV-1 causes an over-activation of the infected T-cells. This allows the virus to replicate rapidly. It also makes the T-cells vulnerable to mutations which can cause cancer. 

The researchers are now developing a method which can stop the overactivation of the T-cells, thereby stopping the leukemia from developing from HTLV-1 cells. They believe that molecules could be used to block the signaling pathway which activates the cells. Another option could be a therapy which targets the proteins T-cells form.

You can read more about this study and its findings here.

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