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Open Access Research article

Influence of HTLV-1 on the clinical, microbiologic and immunologic presentation of tuberculosis

Maria de Lourdes Bastos123, Silvane B Santos1, Anselmo Souza1, Brooke Finkmoore4, Ohana Bispo12, Tasso Barreto12, Ingrid Cardoso12, Iana Bispo12, Flávia Bastos12, Daniele Pereira12, Lee Riley4 and Edgar M Carvalho1256*

Author Affiliations

1 Serviço de Imunologia do Complexo Hospitalar Universitário Professor Edgard Santos, Universidade Federal da Bahia, Salvador, BA, Brazil

2 Escola Bahiana de Medicina e Saúde Pública, Salvador, BA, Brazil

3 Hospital Especializado Octávio Mangabeira, Salvador, BA, Brazil

4 University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, USA

5 Instituto Nacional de Ciência e Tecnologia de Doenças Tropicais (CNPq/MCT), Salvador, BA, Brazil

6 Serviço de Imunologia, 5 andar, Hospital Universitário Professor Edgard Santos, Rua João das Botas s/n, Canela, Salvador, BA, 40110-160, Brazil

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2012, 12:199  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-12-199

Published: 28 August 2012



HTLV-1 is associated with increased susceptibility to Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection and severity of tuberculosis. Although previous studies have shown that HTLV-1 infected individuals have a low frequency of positive tuberculin skin test (TST) and decreasing in lymphoproliferative responses compared to HTLV-1 uninfected persons, these studies were not performed in individuals with history of tuberculosis or evidence of M. tuberculosis infection. Therefore the reasons why HTLV-1 infection increases susceptibility to infection and severity of tuberculosis are not understood.The aim of this study was to evaluate how HTLV-1 may influence the clinical, bacteriologic and immunologic presentation of tuberculosis.


The study prospectively enrolled and followed 13 new cases of tuberculosis associated with HTLV-1 (cases) and 25 patients with tuberculosis without HTLV-1 infection (controls). Clinical findings, bacterial load in the sputum, x-rays, immunological response and death were compared in the two groups.


There were no differences in the demographic, clinical and TST response between the two study groups. IFN-γ and TNF-α production was higher in unstimulated cultures of mononuclear cells of case than in control patients (p < 0.01). While there was no difference in IFN-γ production in PPD stimulated cultures, TNF-α levels were lower in cases than in controls (p = 0.01). There was no difference in the bacterial load among the groups but sputum smear microscopy results became negative faster in cases than in controls. Death only occurred in two co-infected patients.


While the increased susceptibility for tuberculosis infection in HTLV-1 infected subjects may be related to impairment in TNF-α production, the severity of tuberculosis in co-infected patients may be due to the enhancement of the Th1 inflammatory response, rather than in their decreased ability to control bacterial growth.

HTLV-1; Tuberculosis; Mycobacterium tuberculosis