We used a standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR)/Southern blot assay (sensitivity > 10(-5)) to detect human T-cell lymphotrophic virus type I (HTLV-I) proviral pX, pol, and env genes in the lesional skin of 42 American patients with cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL). As in some prior reports using similar methods, a variable proportion of PCR tests were positive (seven of 42 for pX, three of 42 for pol, and two of 37 for env), resulting in an overall positive test rate of 12 of 121 (10%). To determine the significance of these positive test results, we performed several additional studies. D1S80 polymorphism analysis of CTCL cases and HTLV-I PCR analysis of non-CTCL dermatosis controls showed no evidence that positive PCR tests resulted from sample mislabeling, gross HTLV-I contamination, or human endogenous retroviruses. We then modified the standard PCR assay to incorporate ultraviolet (UV) light to destroy low-level PCR contamination. With this modified assay (sensitivity > 10(-5)), only three of 12 previously positive cases were still positive, suggesting that the earlier positives were due to trace contamination of PCR reagents or trace contamination of sample DNA. This interpretation was also supported by: (i) a match between pX and pol sequences cloned from one PCR-positive specimen and the MT4-positive control, (ii) our inability to confirm HTLV-I in any PCR-positive case using genomic dot blotting (sensitivity > 10(-2)), and (iii) negative PCR results when new samples from two of the remaining positive cases were analyzed. Finally, we used our modified UV/ PCR/Southern blot assay to test an additional 28 cases of American CTCL for pX. All of them were negative. Although these studies of 70 cases of American CTCL do not exclude the possibility that another virus is involved in the pathogenesis of this disease, they provide strong evidence against a role for HTLV-I. Furthermore, they emphasize the need for special strategies to control for false-positive PCR tests that can result from even trace levels of contamination with viral DNA. As a consequence, associations between diseases and viruses should be viewed skeptically if they are based primarily on conventional PCR data.
View details for Web of Science ID A1996VD79000003
View details for PubMedID 8751960