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Keerthana Haridas


Human T-cell lymphotropic virus-1 (HTLV-1) causes adult T-cell leukemia and lymphoma (ATLL) and is a rare but important cause of hypercalcemia. A 53-year-old male with HTLV-1-associated myelopathy presented with acute on chronic bilateral lower extremity weakness and numbness. Initial blood work revealed hypercalcemia with corrected calcium of 16.2 mg/dL (8.5–11.5) with normal levels of phosphorus and alkaline phosphatase. Workup for hypercalcemia revealed parathyroid hormone (PTH) of 14 pg/mL (10–65), 25 hydroxy vitamin D at 19.6 ng/mL (30–100), 1,25 dihydroxy vitamin D at 6.7 pg/mL (19.9–79.3), thyroid-stimulating hormone of 1.265 μIU/mL (0.5–5), undetectable PTH-related protein (PTHrP) and lactate dehydrogenase of 433 U/L (100–220). The urine calcium creatinine ratio was 0.388. Reverse transcriptase PCR was positive for HTLV-1 and negative for HTLV-2. Peripheral blood flow cytometry and lymph node biopsy confirmed ATLL. He received treatment with fluids, calcitonin and denosumab after which serum calcium levels fell (nadir: 7.7 mg/dL) and then normalized. Humoral hypercalcemia in this setting is mediated by receptor activator of nuclear factor-kappa B ligand (RANKL), PTHrP and other cytokines. PTHrP levels depend on levels of the TAX gene product, cell type and lymphocyte-specific factors. Thus, a low level, like in our patient, does not rule out HTLV-1 infection/ATLL as the cause of hypercalcemia. Hypercalcemia is known to be responsive to monoclonal antibodies against RANKL given the compound’s role in mediating hypercalcemia in these cases.

Learning points

  • Human T-cell lymphotropic virus-1 infection and adult T-cell leukemia and lymphoma are associated with high rates of hypercalcemia and hypercalcemic crises.

  • Hypercalcemia in these cases is mediated by osteoclastic bone resorption carried out by several agents including receptor activator of nuclear factor-kappa B ligand, parathyroid hormone-related protein (PTHrP), macrophage inflammatory protein 1 alpha, interleukins, etc. A normal PTHRrP does not rule out humoral hypercalcemia of malignancy in this setting, as indicated by this case.

  • Hypercalcemia in such settings is highly responsive to monoclonal antibodies against RANKL given the role the ligand plays in resorptive hypercalcemia.