A gorilla reservoir for human T-lymphotropic virus type 4

Matthew LeBreton, William M. Switzer, Cyrille F. Djoko, Amethyst Gillis, Hongwei Jia, Michele M. Sturgeon, Anupama Shankar, Haoqiang Zheng, Gerard Nkeunen, Ubald Tamoufe, Ahmadou Nana, Joseph Le Doux Diffo, Babila Tafon, John Kiyang, Bradley S. Schneider, Donald S. Burke, Nathan D. Wolfe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Of the seven known species of human retroviruses only one, human T-cell lymphotropic virus type 4 (HTLV-4), lacks a known animal reservoir. We report the largest screening for simian T-cell lymphotropic virus (STLV-4) to date in a wide range of captive and wild non-human primate (NHP) species from Cameroon. Among the 681 wild and 426 captive NHPs examined, we detected STLV-4 infection only among gorillas by using HTLV-4-specific quantitative polymerase chain reaction. The large number of samples analyzed, the diversity of NHP species examined, the geographic distribution of infected animals relative to the known HTLV-4 case, as well as detailed phylogenetic analyses on partial and full genomes, indicate that STLV-4 is endemic to gorillas, and that rather than being an ancient virus among humans, HTLV-4 emerged from a gorilla reservoir, likely through the hunting and butchering of wild gorillas. Our findings shed further light on the importance of gorillas as keystone reservoirs for the evolution and emergence of human infectious diseases and provide a clear course for preventing HTLV-4 emergence through management of human contact with wild gorillas, the development of improved assays for HTLV-4/STLV-4 detection and the ongoing monitoring of STLV-4 among gorillas and for HTLV-4 zoonosis among individuals exposed to gorilla populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere7
JournalEmerging Microbes and Infections
StatePublished - Jan 22 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Gorilla
  • Human T-lymphotropic virus
  • Primate
  • Retrovirus
  • Simian T-lymphotropic virus
  • Zoonoses

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Epidemiology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Drug Discovery
  • Virology
  • Infectious Diseases


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