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Ascorbic acid has superior antiviral and antiproliferative effects over IFN-alpha in HAM/TSP PBMC ex vivo

IFN-alpha and high dose ascorbic acid (AA) have a modest clinical benefit in HAM/TSP (Nakagawa, 1996). We investigated the effect of ex vivo and in vitro AA and IFN-alpha treatment on HAM/TSP PBMC and HTLV-1-infected cell lines, respectively.

We treated cells for 48-72h ex vivo and in vitro with low-high (10-100µg/ml) dose of AA and 1000U/ml of IFN-alpha and quantified lymphoproliferation by [3H]thymidine incorporation, tetraploid DNA content and PCNA expression (flow cytometry). Viral expression was measured at the RNA (tax, LTR) and protein (Tax, p19) level by RT-PCR, Western blot and ELISA, respectively. Apoptosis was quantified by subdiploid DNA content (flow cytometry). Th1/Th2/Th17 cytokines were quantified by cytometric bead array. AA induced a dramatic 95% decrease (control 3689±755 cpm vs. AA 121±52 cpm, p=0.001) in spontaneous, virus-driven lymphoproliferation and a decrease in tax and LTR transcription in HAM/TSP PBMC. In addition, AA decreased the exacerbated ex vivo IFN-gamma production in HAM/TSP PBMC. In HTLV-1 infected cell lines (MT-2 and MT-4), AA induced a dose-dependent increase in DNA fragmentation (p=0.02, p=0.005), paralleled by a decrease in PCNA (p=0.003), as well as p19 (p<0.001) and Tax levels. These effects appear virus-specific, since high-dose (100µg/ml) AA did not exert a significant antiproliferative or pro-apoptotic effect on PBMC of normal donors. On top, AA displayed a superior antiproliferative, antiviral and immunomodulatory effect over IFN-alpha in both cell lines and HAM/TSP PBMC. Considering the selective antiproliferative and antiviral effects of AA ex vivo and in vitro, the therapeutic potential of combination therapy with high dose AA in HAM/TSP should be further explored.


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Correspondence to Britta Moens.

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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.

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Moens, B., Decanine, D., Khouri, R. et al. Ascorbic acid has superior antiviral and antiproliferative effects over IFN-alpha in HAM/TSP PBMC ex vivo. Retrovirology 8 (Suppl 1), A61 (2011).

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