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J Virol. 2004 Dec;78(24):13880-90.

Evidence and consequence of porcine endogenous retrovirus recombination.

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  • 1Wohl Virion Centre, Division of Infection of Immunity, University College London, 46 Cleveland St., London W1T 4JF, United Kingdom.


The genetic nature and biological effects of recombination between porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERV) were studied. An infectious molecular clone was generated from a high-titer, human-tropic PERV isolate, PERV-A 14/220 (B. A. Oldmixon, et al. J. Virol. 76:3045-3048, 2002; T. A. Ericsson et al. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 100:6759-6764, 2003). To analyze this sequence and 15 available full-length PERV nucleotide sequences, we developed a sequence comparison program, LOHA(TM) to calculate local sequence homology between two sequences. This analysis determined that PERV-A 14/220 arose by homologous recombination of a PERV-C genome replacing an 850-bp region around the pol-env junction with that of a PERV-A sequence. This 850-bp PERV-A sequence encompasses the env receptor binding domain, thereby conferring a wide host range including human cells. In addition, we determined that multiple regions derived from PERV-C are responsible for the increased infectious titer of PERV-A 14/220. Thus, a single recombination event may be a fast and effective way to generate high-titer, potentially harmful PERV. Further, local homology and phylogenetic analyses between 16 full-length sequences revealed evidence for other recombination events in the past that give rise to other PERV genomes that possess the PERV-A, but not the PERV-B, env gene. These results indicate that PERV-A env is more prone to recombination with heterogeneous backbone genomes than PERV-B env. Such recombination events that generate more active PERV-A appear to occur in pigs rather frequently, which increases the potential risk of zoonotic PERV transmission. In this context, pigs lacking non-human-tropic PERV-C would be more suitable as donor animals for clinical xenotransplantation.

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