Skip to main content
  • Oral presentation
  • Open access
  • Published:

HTLV-1 epigenetic modification of the FoxP3 TSDR in HAM/TSP decreases the functional proliferative suppression of Tregs

HTLV-1 is a human retrovirus that is associated with adult T-cell leukemia/ lymphoma (ATLL) as well as the neuroinflammatory disorder HTLV-1 associated myelopathy/ tropical spastic paraparesis (HAM/TSP). In these patients, HTLV-1 is primarily found in the CD4+CD25+ T cell subset (Regulatory T cells or Tregs), the cells that are responsible for peripheral immune tolerance and which are known to be dysfunctional in HAM/TSP. However, due to the inherent inflammatory component of HAM/TSP, markers normally used to characterize T regs, such as CD25, FoxP3, and CTLA4 are problematic in differentiating Tregs. Recent evidence has shown that FoxP3 expression and function is determined epigenetically, specifically through DNA methylation in the Treg-specific methylation region (TSDR). To more precisely characterize Treg cells, we analyzed the methylation status of specific CpGs in the TSDR in PBMCs, CD4+ T cells, and CD4+CD25+ T cells from normal healthy donors (NDs) and HAM/TSP patients. We demonstrated that there is decreased demethylation in PBMCs and CD4+CD25+ T cells from HAM/TSP patients as compared to NDs, despite the increased CD4+CD25+ frequency in HAM/TSP. Further, decreased TSDR demethylation correlates with decreased functional suppression in Treg cells of HAM/TSP patients. Additionally, increased HTLV-1 tax expression in PBMC culture correlates with this decrease in FoxP3 TSDR demethylation. Overall, we suggest that HTLV-1 infection decreases Treg functional suppressive capacity in HAM/TSP through epigenetic modification within the FoxP3 locus and that this dysregulation of Treg function may contribute to HAM/TSP disease pathogenesis.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Monique R Anderson.

Rights and permissions

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Anderson, M.R., Akahata, Y., Massoud, R. et al. HTLV-1 epigenetic modification of the FoxP3 TSDR in HAM/TSP decreases the functional proliferative suppression of Tregs. Retrovirology 11 (Suppl 1), O34 (2014).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • DOI: