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HTLV is a genetically-stable retrovirus that is considered to have evolved partly in concert with human migrations. Its rate of evolution is low and therefore, difficult to estimate reliably. In the first part of this study, we provide an improved estimate of HTLV evolutionary rate using anthropological calibration of phylogenetic nodes. We investigate two different anthropological calibrations using a Bayesian method that implements a relaxed molecular clock model and can combine data from multiple genes. The analysis shows that the two calibrations are compatible. In the second part, we develop a Bayesian statistical model to combine and compare the anthropology-based estimates of evolutionary rate with a rate recently calculated using pedigree data from vertically HTLV-infected families. We compare the statistical power of the two estimates and show that the current pedigree estimate, although resulting in considerably higher evolutionary rates, is too statistically weak to warrant a re-examination of the commonly used anthropology-based estimates. Statistical uncertainty burdens HTLV rate estimates based on both anthropological calibrations and on pedigree data; the former method rests on an untested assumption, whilst that latter is affected by small sample sizes.

Original publication




Journal article


Infection, genetics and evolution : journal of molecular epidemiology and evolutionary genetics in infectious diseases

Publication Date





291 - 298


Rega Institute for Medical Research, Minderbroedersstraat 10, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium.


Humans, Human T-lymphotropic virus 1, Primate T-lymphotropic virus 2, Human T-lymphotropic virus 2, Bayes Theorem, Pedigree, Phylogeny, Biological Evolution