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J Gene Med. 2005 Oct;7(10):1263-74.

Cross-species transfer of viruses: implications for the use of viral vectors in biomedical research, gene therapy and as live-virus vaccines.

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GMO Office, Substances Expertise Centre of the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment, Bilthoven, The Netherlands.


All living organisms are continuously exposed to a plethora of viruses. In general, viruses tend to be restricted to the natural host species which they infect. From time to time viruses cross the host-range barrier expanding their host range. However, in very rare cases cross-species transfer is followed by the establishment and persistence of a virus in the new host species, which may result in disease. Recent examples of viruses that have crossed the species barrier from animal reservoirs to humans are hantavirus, haemorrhagic fever viruses, arboviruses, Nipah and Hendra viruses, avian influenza virus (AI), monkeypox virus, and the SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV). The opportunities for cross-species transfer of mammalian viruses have increased in recent years due to increased contact between humans and animal reservoirs. However, it is difficult to predict when such events will take place since the viral adaptation that is needed to accomplish this is multifactorial and stochastic. Against this background the intensified use of viruses and their genetically modified variants as viral gene transfer vectors for biomedical research, experimental gene therapy and for live-vector vaccines is a cause for concern. This review addresses a number of potential risk factors and their implications for activities with viral vectors from the perspective of cross-species transfer of viruses in nature, with emphasis on the occurrence of host-range mutants resulting from either cell culture or tropism engineering. The issues are raised with the intention to assist in risk assessments for activities with vector viruses.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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