To study the possible involvement of human T lymphotrophic virus type I (HTLV-I) or a related retrovirus in Japanese cases of multiple sclerosis (MS), we first performed a Western blot analysis with purified Ag of HTLV-I. Ten out of 31 MS patients (32.2%), 19 of 66 patients (28.8%) with other neurologic diseases, and 2 of 64 healthy blood donors (3.1%) had antibodies reactive with Ag corresponding to the group-specific Ag (gag) proteins (p15, p19, p24) on their sera. There were no significant differences between MS and other neurologic diseases concerning the patterns and the frequency. Second, we tried to establish T cell lines from PBMC of 22 MS patients with crude IL-2 without accessory cells, because HTLV-I-infected T cells can be immortalized in a high ratio under those conditions. Only one T cell line (MS-14C), however, could be maintained in long term culture. MS-14C and cultured T cells for 3 to 5 wk derived from MS patients were examined by Southern blot analysis under both stringent and low stringent conditions with HTLV-I as a probe. No HTLV-I related bands could be detected. By polymerase chain reaction examination, we also could not detect HTLV-I provirus genome in the fresh PBMC from 20 MS patients, although some of them had gag-reactive antibodies. Our data do not favor the hypothesis of HTLV-I or an HTLV-I-related human retrovirus in the etiology of MS.

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