Human T-cell leukemia virus type-1 (HTLV-1)-specific T-cell immunity, a potential antitumor surveillance system in vivo, is impaired in adult T-cell leukemia (ATL). In this study, we aimed to clarify whether the T-cell insufficiency in ATL is present before the disease onset or occurs as a consequence of the disease. We investigated T-cell responses against Tax protein in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from individuals at earlier stages of HTLV-1-infection, including 21 asymptomatic HTLV-1 carriers (ACs) and four patients with smoldering-type ATL (sATL), whose peripheral lymphocyte count was in normal range. About 30% of samples tested showed clear Tax-specific interferon (IFN)-γ producing responses. Proviral loads in this group were significantly lower than those in the other less-specific response group. The latter group was further divided to two subgroups with or without emergence of Tax-specific responses following depletion of CC chemokine receptor 4 (CCR4)+ cells that contained HTLV-1-infected cells. In the PBMCs with Tax-specific responses, CD8+ cells efficiently suppressed HTLV-1 p19 production in culture. The remaining group without the emergence of Tax-specific response after CCR4+ cell-depletion included at least two sATL and one AC samples, which spontaneously produced HTLV-1 p19 in culture, where tetramer-binding, Tax-specific cytotoxic T-lymphocytes were either undetectable or unresponsive. Our results indicated that HTLV-1-specific T-cell responsiveness widely differed among HTLV-1 carriers, and that impairment of HTLV-1-specific T-cell responses was observed not only in advanced ATL patients but also in a subpopulation at earlier stages, which was associated with insufficient control of HTLV-1. (Cancer Sci 2009; 100: 481–489)