Human T-cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1) is the causative agent of adult T-cell lymphoma/leukemia (ATL). The HTLV-1 envelope gene exhibits limited variability when examined from infected individuals, but has not been tested using infectious clones of the virus in animal models. In vitro assays indicate that HTLV-1 envelope (Env) Ser75Ile, Asn95Asp, and Asn195Asp surface unit (SU) mutants are able to replicate in and immortalize lymphocytes. Herein, we examined the effects of these Env mutants in rabbits inoculated with HTLV-1 immortalized ACH.75, ACH.95, or ACH.195 cell lines (expressing full-length molecular clones with the SU mutations) or the ACH.1 cell line (expressing wild-type SU). All rabbits became infected, and the fidelity of the mutations was maintained throughout the 8-week study. However, SU point mutations resulted in decreased antibody responses to viral group-associated antigen (Gag) and Env antigens. ACH.195 rabbits had a selective decreased antibody response to SU, and one ACH.195 rabbit had an antibody response to both HTLV-1 and HTLV-2 SUs. Some mutant inoculation groups had altered proviral loads. However, peripheral-blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) proviral loads did not correlate with antibody responses. Our data are the first to demonstrate that mutations in critical determinants of HTLV-1 Env SU altered antibody responses and proviral loads, but do not prevent viral replication in vivo.
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