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HTLV-1 molecular epidemiology in central Australia: Two distinctive HTLV-1 Subtype C lineages in Indigenous Australians

HTLV-1 infects approximately 5-10 million people worldwide. It is widely distributed, with clusters of high endemicity in certain geographic areas or ethnic groups. Seven main HTLV-1 subtypes have been described and the Melanesian/Australian subtype C is only found in Oceania. In Australia, HTLV-1 is endemic with ATLL, TSP/HAM, bronchiectasis, ID and severe scabies cases reported. However, HTLV-1 clinical significance is debated and only one partial HTLV-1 sequence from an Aboriginal Australian (MSHR-1) is available. Therefore, establishing a large HTLV-1 sequence database is essential for the understanding of the epidemiology and pathogenesis of this virus in Indigenous people. Samples were obtained from 23 HTLV-1 patients originated from four broad geographical and language-based areas. Sequence comparison indicated that the 23 new HTLV-1 LTR and Tax-Gag sequences belong to the subtype C as MSHR-1 strain. Phylogenetic analyses evidenced two main clades (Solomon Islands/Vanuatu versus Australia) within subtype C. Interestingly, the Australian clade can be itself divided into two clusters: the first comprising strains characterized among most of the Indigenous Australians from the North and the second including a majority of individuals originating from the South and Central Australia. Thus, there is a clear evidence of a specific HTLV-1 clustering according to the childhood residence of the HTLV-1 infected individuals, and subsequently their language group affinity. Taking into account that non-human primates have never been found in Australia, we believe that these HTLV-1 subtype C variants have been present among the first ancestors of modern Indigenous Australians for several tens of millennia.

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Correspondence to Olivier Cassar.

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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.

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Cassar, O., Einsiedel, L., Afonso, P.V. et al. HTLV-1 molecular epidemiology in central Australia: Two distinctive HTLV-1 Subtype C lineages in Indigenous Australians. Retrovirology 11 (Suppl 1), P56 (2014).

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