We have studied 15 individuals (aged 14-74 years) with antibodies to HTLV-I in their serum and random integration of HTLV-I proviral DNA in their peripheral blood lymphocytes. All but one of these patients suffered from a variety of non-specific complaints which did not correspond to those of adult T-cell leukaemia (ATL). All of them were born in Kyushu and Okinawa which are endemic areas for HTLV-I infection; 25% of their family members were also seropositive for HTLV-I. The only haematological abnormality in these patients was the presence of few atypical lymphoid cells in the peripheral blood. The CD4/CD8 ratios were normal but the proportion of Tac positive cells was slightly higher than normal.

These individuals with polyclonal integration of HTLV-I proviral DNA seem to represent an intermediate state between smouldering ATL (monoclonal integration) and healthy HTLV-I carriers (with antibodies but no detectable HTLV-I proviral DNA). Patients with this intermediate state of HTLV-I infection may be at risk to progress to ATL. The natural history of HTLV-I infection in humans leading to the development of ATL is reviewed in the light of these new findings.