Background. Reports that pig endogenous retrovirus (PERV) infects human cells in vitro have heightened the importance of molecular and serologic monitoring of xenograft recipients for evidence of infection with PERV. We report the development and validation of a PERV-specific Western immunoblot assay for the diagnostic testing of porcine xenografts recipients. This assay is based upon the serological cross-reactivity observed between PERV variants capable of infecting human cells in vitro and other mammalian C type retroviruses. Methods and Results. Strong reactivity between PERV expressing embryonic pig kidney PK-15 cells and antisera raised against whole virus preparations of murine leukemia virus, gibbon ape leukemia virus (GALV), and simian sarcoma-associated virus was demonstrated by an immunofluorescence assay, suggesting specific antigenic cross-reactivity between this group of viruses and PERV. Western immunoblot analysis demonstrated that anti-GALV antisera reacted with three proteins in PK-15 cells having molecular masses of 30, 55, and 66 kDa. Antisera specific for the Gag proteins of either GALV or simian sarcoma-associated virus reacted with the 30-kDa (major) and 55- kDa (minor) proteins present in PK-15 cells and in PERV-infected 293 human kidney cells, likely representing reactivity to the processed and precursor forms of the PERV Gag protein, respectively. No reactivity was seen in uninfected 293 cells. Analysis of plasma samples from 200 United States blood donors and from 58 human immunodeficiency virus-1, 18 human immunodeficiency virus-2, 13 human T-cell lymphotrophic virus-I, 21 human T-cell lymphotrophic virus-II, and 15 cytomegalovirus infected controls were negative. Conclusions. As this assay is based on PERV antigen derived from infected human cells, it clearly has the capacity to detect a serologic response towards PERV variants that have zoonotic potential and will allow for the accurate determination of PERV-specific sero-reactivity in porcine xenograft recipients.
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