The HLA types of peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) of 36 adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma (ATLL) patients were examined and compared with those of 45 healthy relatives of these patients, and with those of 10 non-ATLL families including 80 healthy members. Thirty-one percent of ATLL patients showed either a gain or a loss of HLA antigens determined by the presence of alien HLA antigens or the absence of inherent HLA antigens deduced from familial haplotype analysis. The antigen specificity of HLA gained or lost was variable and differed from case to case among ATLL patients. Although the gain of HLA was detected only in ATLL patients, the loss of HLA was found both in ATLL patients and in asymptomatic healthy relatives. The rate of HLA loss in ATLL patients (8.4%) and their relatives (17.8%) was much higher than in relatives of non-ATLL patients (1.1 %). The HLA gain and loss revealed in the PBL of ATLL patients were confirmed by altered HLA phenotypes in the cloned T and B cells established from ATLL patients. Our results suggest that latently infecting HTLV-1 may induce altered HLA phenotypes in T and B cells, primarily with loss of HLA antigens in a population of asymptomatic virus carriers, and secondarily with a gain of HLA antigens after the development of ATLL.