The human T-lymphotropic virus type-1 (HTLV-1) is the cause of adult T cell leukaemias/lymphoma. Because thymic epithelial cells (TEC) express recently defined receptors for the virus, it seemed conceivable that these cells might be a target for HTLV-1 infection. We developed an in vitro co-culture system comprising HTLV-1+-infected T cells and human TECs. Infected T cells did adhere to TECs and, after 24 h, the viral proteins gp46 and p19 were observed in TECs. After incubating TECs with culture supernatants from HTLV-1+-infected T cells, we detected gp46 on TEC membranes and the HTLV-1 tax gene integrated in the TEC genome. In conclusion, the human thymic epithelium can be infected in vitro by HTLV-1, not only via cell-cell contact, but also via exposure to virus-containing medium.