Human immunodeficiency virus type-1 (HIV-1) and human T lymphotropic virus type-1 (HTLV-1) infections have complex effects on adaptive immunity, with specific tropism for, but contrasting effects on, CD4 T lymphocytes: depletion with HIV-1, proliferation with HTLV-1. Impaired T lymphocyte function occurs early in HIV-1 infection but opportunistic infections (OIs) rarely occur in the absence of CD4 lymphopenia. In the unusual case where a HIV-1 infected individual with a high CD4 count presents with recurrent OIs, a clinician is faced with the possibility of a second underlying comorbidity.
We present a case of pseudo-adult T cell leukemia/lymphoma (ATLL) in HIV-1/HTLV-1 coinfection where the individual fulfilled Shimoyama criteria for chronic ATLL and had pulmonary Mycobacterium kansasii, despite a high CD4 lymphocyte count. However, there was no evidence of clonal T-cell proliferation by T-cell receptor gene rearrangement studies nor of monoclonal HTLV-1 integration by high-throughput sequencing. Mutually beneficial interplay between HIV-1 and HTLV-1, maintaining high level HIV-1 and HTLV-1 viremia and proliferation of poorly functional CD4 cells despite chronicity of infection is a postulated mechanism.
Despite good microbiological response to antimycobacterial therapy, the patient remained systemically unwell with refractory anemia. Subsequent initiation of combined antiretroviral therapy led to paradoxical resolution of CD4 T lymphocytosis as well as HIV-1 viral suppression and decreased HTLV-1 proviral load. This is proposed to be the result of attenuation of immune activation post-HIV virological control.
This case illustrates the importance of screening for HTLV-1 in HIV-1 patients with appropriate clinical presentation and epidemiological risk factors and explores mechanisms for the complex interactions on HIV-1/HTLV-1 adaptive immunity.