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.
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.