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J Med Virol. 2000 Aug;61(4):527-32.

Detection of reverse transcriptase activity in the serum of patients with motor neurone disease.

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1
Department of Virology, Royal Free and University College Medical School, London, United Kingdom.

Abstract

The recognition that both human and murine retroviruses can cause motor neurone disease-like syndromes has raised the possibility that a retrovirus may be involved in the aetiology of motor neurone disease. This possibility was explored by looking for evidence of reverse transcriptase in the serum of motor neurone disease patients. Sera from 56 patients with motor neurone disease and 58 controls were tested by the product-enhanced reverse transcriptase assay, a technique that is approximately a million fold more sensitive than conventional reverse transcriptase assays and capable of detecting very low numbers of retroviral particles. Cell-free reverse transcriptase activity was detected in the serum of 33 of the 56 motor neurone disease patients (59%) but in only 3 of the controls (P < 0.00001). The reverse transcriptase activity was detectable in the presence of a large excess of an effective inhibitor of human cellular DNA polymerases and was therefore tentatively considered to be compatible with a retroviral origin. The reverse transcriptase activity, however, was not found to be due to the presence of known human exogenous retroviruses including HIV-1, HIV-2, HTLV-I, HTLV-II, HRV-5 or human foamy virus, as assessed by PCR-based assays. Further investigations will be required to determine the source of the reverse transcriptase activity observed in these motor neurone disease patient sera.

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