Although retroviruses (RNA tumour viruses) have been implicated in the causation of naturally occurring leukaemias and lymphomas of animals 1, it is not yet clear whether they are involved in the human versions of these malignant diseases, particularly because of the difficulty in isolating viruses truly ascribable to human origin2,3. However, a novel type C retrovirus (called HTLVCR) has been isolated in our laboratory from T cells (fresh and in culture) from a lymph node biopsy of a patient (C.R.) with cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (mycosis fungoides)4 and a very similar virus (HTLVMB) from the peripheral blood T cells of another patient (M.B.) with cutaneous T-cell leukaemia (Sézary syndrome, see accompanying report5). The nucleic acid sequence 6, the reverse transcriptase7 and the major internal structural protein (p24)8 of HTLVCR are not significantly related to any of the known retroviruses; nucleic acid sequences and p24 protein of HTLVMB have been recognized in fresh and cultured cells 5. We now describe the results of a limited survey of the occurrence, in patients with T-cell malignancies (and among normal people), of antibodies against HTLVCR proteins. We find that antibodies against p24 are present in human sera (including those of patient C.R. and his wife), and that these are specifically directed at HTLVCR proteins and not at cell-specific determinants - in other words, the immunological reactions are not those reported in human sera9-11 against animal virus glycoproteins which, lacking virus specificity, are directed against the carbohydrate residues of the glycoprotein12,13. The antibodies against HTLV are thus the first evidence for a specific immune response in humans against a retrovirus.
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