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HTLV-2 in Central Africa: HTLV-2 subtype B strains similar to those found in Amerindian tribes are endemic in Bakola Pygmies from south Cameroon but not in surrounding Bantus and Baka Pygmies

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Presence and origin of endemic foci of HTLV-2 infection in Africa remain a matter of debate.

Material and methods

To better appreciate the epidemiological and molecular determinants of HTLV-2 infection in Central Africa, we performed a survey in 3903 inhabitants of a South Cameroon forest area, including 1051 Bakola Pygmies, 815 Baka Pygmies and 2037 Bantus living in their neighboring. HTLV-1 and HTLV-2 infection was determined by both specific serological (IFA and WB) and molecular (different generic and specific PCR) methods.


HTLV-1/2 prevalence was of 3% (117/3903) with 90 HTLV-1 (2.3%) and 27 HTLV-2 (0.7%). Surprisingly, HTLV-2 infection was restricted to Bakola Pygmies (27/1051 2.5%) with no HTLV-2 infection in any of the 2852 Baka or Bantus individuals. In Bakola Pygmies, HTLV-2 seroprevalence increased with age, reaching 6.5% in the elder persons. Ongoing intrafamilial HTLV-2 transmission was evidenced. Lymphoid T cell lines (CD8+ or CD4+, CD25 +) producing HTLV-2 antigens, were established from PBMCs cultures of HTLV-2 infected individuals. Sequences of a 672 nucleotide LTR fragment, obtained from 7 HTLV-2 samples, showed a very high degree of homologies among samples (< 1% nucleotide divergence) but also surprisingly with Amerindian HTLV-2 B strains. Complete sequence (8954 bp) of one isolate confirmed a typical HTLV-2 B strain.


This study demonstrates clearly a HTLV-2 endemic population, with ongoing transmission, in Central Africa. Furthermore, it gives insights into several central questions regarding the origin and evolution rate of HTLV-2 and the migrations of infected populations.

Author information

Correspondence to Philippe Mauclère or Antoine Gessain.

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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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  • Forest Area
  • Nucleotide Divergence
  • Infected Individual
  • Molecular Determinant
  • Infected Population