Short or damaged telomeres have been implicated in degenerative conditions. We hypothesized that analysis of telomere length (TL) in human T-cell lymphotropic virus (HTLV) infection and HTLV-associated neuropathy might provide clues to the etiology of HTLV-associated disease and viral dynamics. A subset of 45 human T-cell lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1), 45 human T-cell lymphotropic virus type 2 (HTLV-2), and 45 seronegative subjects was selected from the larger HTLV Outcomes Study (HOST) cohort, matched on age, sex and race/ethnicity. Telomere-to-single-copy gene (T/S) ratio (a measure of TL) and HTLV-1 and HTLV-2 proviral loads were measured in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) using quantitative PCR (qPCR). Vibration sensation measured by tuning fork during neurologic examinations performed as part of the HOST study allowed for an assessment of peripheral neuropathy. TL was compared between groups using t
-tests, linear and logistic regression. Mean T/S ratio was 1.02 ± 0.16 in HTLV-1, 1.03 ± 0.17 in HTLV-2 and 0.99 ± 0.18 in HTLV seronegative subjects (p
= 0.322). TL was not associated with HTLV-1 or -2 proviral load. Shorter TL was significantly associated with impaired vibration sense in the HTLV-2 positive group only. Overall, we found no evidence that telomere length was affected by chronic HTLV-1 and HTLV-2 infection. That TL was only associated with peripheral neuropathy in the HTLV-2-positive group is intriguing, but should be interpreted cautiously. Studies with larger sample size and telomere length measurement in lymphocyte subsets may clarify the relationship between TL and HTLV-infection.
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