Rare isolation of human-tropic recombinant porcine endogenous retroviruses PERV-A/C from Göttingen minipigs
Background: Porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs) can infect human cells and pose a risk for xenotransplantation when pig cells, tissues or organs are transplanted to human recipients. Xenotransplantation holds great promise to overcome the shortage of human donor organs after solving the problems of rejection, functionality and virus safety. We recently described the transmission of a human-tropic recombinant PERV-A/C, designated PERV-F, from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) of a Göttingen Minipig (GöMP) to human 293 cells (Krüger et al., in Viruses 12(1):38, 2019). The goal of this study was to characterize PERV-F in more detail and to analyze the probability of virus isolation from other animals. Methods: The recombination site in the envelope (env) gene, the long terminal repeats (LTR), the proteins and the morphology of the recombinant PERV-F were characterized by polymerase chain reaction (PCR), sequencing, Western blot analysis, immunofluorescence, and transmissible electron microscopy. Mitogen-stimulated PBMCs from 47 additional pigs, including 17 new GöMP, were co-cultured with highly susceptible human 293 T cells, and the PERV-A/C prevalence and PERV transmission was analyzed by PCR. Results: PERV-F, isolated from a GöMP, is an infectious human-tropic PERV-A/C virus with a novel type of recombination in the env gene. The length of the LTR of PERV-F increased after passaging on human cells. In a few minipigs, but not in German landrace pigs, PERV-A/C were found. There was no transmission of human-tropic PERV-A/C from additional 47 pigs, including 17 GöMP, to human cells. Conclusion: These data show that human-tropic recombinant PERV-A/C proviruses can only be found in a very small number of minipigs, but not in other pigs, and that their isolation as infectious virus able to replicate on human cells is an extremely rare event, even when using highly susceptible 293 cells.
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