Mammary epithelial cells support and transfer productive human T-cell lymphotropic virus infections

R. J. LeVasseur, S. O. Southern, P. J. Southern

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35 Scopus citations


Objectives: To investigate whether luminal and basal human mammary epithelial cells (HMEC) are susceptible to productive infection by human T-cell lymphotropic virus types I and II (HTLV-I and HTLV-II) and whether HTLV infection of breast epithelial cells could contribute to the seeding of milk with HTLV infectivity and support virus transmission from mother to nursing infant. Study Design/Methods: Primary cultures of basal epithelial cells were infected by coculture with mitomycin-C-treated HTLV-producer T-cell lines and HTLV-infected milk epithelial cells, and the transfer of infection was monitored by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification and immunocytochemical staining. Results: Basal mammary epithelial cells were found to be susceptible to HTLV infection and capable of transferring HTLV infection to normal peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL). Conclusions: A reservoir for HTLV infectivity could exist in mammary epithelial cells and contribute to the introduction of HTLV infectivity into milk by infecting lymphocytes that traverse the epithelium and by the release of infected epithelial cells, infectious cell fragments, and free virions directly into the milk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)214-223
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Human Virology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1998


  • HTLV
  • Mammary epithelial cells
  • Milk-borne transmission
  • Reservoir


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