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J Virol. 1992 Oct; 66(10): 5726–5734.
PMCID: PMC241447

JC virus DNA is present in many human brain samples from patients without progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy.


Sections of normal and diseased brain and kidney tissues were screened for the presence of JC virus (JCV) DNA by using the polymerase chain reaction. As expected, all samples obtained from patients with progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) tested positive when multiple JCV-specific primer and probe combinations were used. Unexpectedly, more than 50% of non-PML-affected brains were also found to harbor low levels of JCV DNA. To confirm that the positive signals seen in the tissue sections were not the result of contamination, amplified DNA was cloned and sequenced and in some cases was shown to represent strains of JCV not identified previously. Two predominant regulatory region configurations of JCV have been detected in the human host: archetype JCV, which is excreted in the urine of normal and immunocompromised individuals, and "PML-type" JCV found in diseased brains. This latter group of variants appears to derive from archetype JCV by the deletion and duplication of sequences within the promoter-enhancer region. In the present study, the archetype strain of JCV was identified only in normal kidney samples; JCV DNA found in non-PML-affected brain specimens and in kidney tissue from patients with PML resembled that of strains isolated from PML-affected brain tissue. Our findings indicate that JCV reaches the brain more frequently than previously thought and may persist at this site without causing demyelinating disease. A subsequent episode of prolonged immunodeficiency or a direct interaction with an immunocompromising agent (e.g., human immunodeficiency virus type 1) might activate the latent JCV infection and lead to the development of PML.

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