- Open Access
Retrovirology highlights a quarter century of HTLV-I research
Retrovirology volume 2, Article number: 15 (2005)
In 1977, Takatsuki and co-workers described in Japan a human malignant disease termed adult T-cell leukemia (ATL). Three years later, in 1980, Gallo and colleagues reported the identification of the first human retrovirus, human T-cell leukemia virus type I (HTLV-I), in a patient with cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. This month, Retrovirology commemorates these two land mark findings by publishing separate personal recollections by Takatsuki and Gallo respectively on the discovery of ATL and HTLV.
Retrovirology as a medical study first emerged in the early 1900s. In 1908, Ellermann and Bang reported on the transmissibility of avian leucosis by cell-free filtrates, suggesting the involvement of a virus . Shortly afterward, in 1910, Rous demonstrated that chicken sarcomas were infectious and when inoculated into healthy birds induced tumors . Today, a plethora of oncogenic animal retroviruses including bovine leukemia virus, feline leukemia virus, gibbon ape leukemia virus, Jaagsiektse sheep retrovirus, murine leukemia virus, mouse mammary tumor virus, reticuloendotheliosis virus, simian T-cell lymphotropic virus, and Walleye dermal sarcoma virus has been described.
Understanding how retroviruses cause cancer took a major step forward with the development of the cellular oncogene hypothesis in 1976. Thus Varmus, Bishop and colleagues  demonstrated that the viral oncogenes (v-onc) encoded by many retroviruses were captured originally from cellular sequences (i.e. c-onc). To date, three general models of retroviral transformation are accepted: a) over-expression of v-onc; b) cis-oncogenic effect from promoter insertion; and c) cis-oncogenic effect from enhancer insertion (Fig. 1A, B, C).
Although not yet fully understood, HTLV-I is believed to transform human T-cells neither through the acquisition of a c-onc nor by cis-insertion effects on the cellular genome. Pioneering molecular biology studies by Mitsuaki Yoshida and colleagues led to the delineation of the HTLV-I transforming gene, Tax . Tax has no cellular homologue; and it works in trans to disrupt cellular checkpoints and destabilize genome integrity  leading to transformation (Fig. 1D). A more extensive discussion of the molecular biology of HTLV-I and its transforming function will be in an upcoming comprehensive review by Masao Matsuoka to be published in Retrovirology.
Ellerman V, Bang O: Experimentelle Leukämie bei Hühnern. Zentralbl Bakteriol Parasitenkd Infectionskr Hyg Abt Orig. 1908, 46: 595-
Rous P: A transmissible avian neoplasm. (Sarcoma of the common foul). J Exp Med. 1910, 12: 696-10.1084/jem.12.5.696.
Stehelin D, Varmus H, Bishop JM, Vogt PK: DNA related to the transforming gene(s) of avian sarcoma viruses is present in normal avian DNA. Nature. 1976, 260: 170-173.
Yoshida M: Multiple viral strategies of HTLV-1 for dysregulation of cell growth control. Annu Rev Immunol. 2001, 19: 475-496. 10.1146/annurev.immunol.19.1.475.
Jeang KT, Giam CZ, Majone F, Aboud M: Life, death, and Tax: role of HTLV-I oncoprotein in genetic instability and cellular transformation. J Biol Chem. 2004, 279: 31991-31994. 10.1074/jbc.R400009200.
Takatsuki K: Discovery of adult T-cell leukemia. Retrovirology. 2005, 2: 16-10.1186/1742-4690-2-16.
Gallo RC: The discovery of the first human retrovirus: HTLV-1 and HTLV-2. Retrovirology. 2005, 2: 17-10.1186/1742-4690-2-17.
I thank Anthony Elmo for help with preparation of manuscript.
Authors’ original submitted files for images
Below are the links to the authors’ original submitted files for images.
About this article
Cite this article
Jeang, K. Retrovirology highlights a quarter century of HTLV-I research. Retrovirology 2, 15 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1186/1742-4690-2-15
- Leukemia Virus
- Bovine Leukemia Virus
- Mouse Mammary Tumor Virus
- Feline Leukemia Virus
- Reticuloendotheliosis Virus