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Br J Cancer. 1991 Apr;63(4):534-40.

An evaluation of the putative human mammary tumour retrovirus associated with peripheral blood monocytes.

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Department of Virology, Wellcome Research Laboratories, Beckenham, Kent, UK.


The primary aims of this study were purification and molecular cloning of a putative retrovirus designated human mammary tumour virus (HMTV). However, our preliminary unpublished data of negative reverse transcriptase (RT) activity in ostensibly 'infected' cells led us to re-examine the evidence for this virus; namely multinucleate giant cell (MNGC) formation and RT activity in cultured blood monocytes from breast cancer patients versus benign breast tumour and normal control subjects. MNGCs from by fusion of monocytes and we estimated the total number of cell fusions which had occurred after 10 days of culture in vitro by counting cells with two, three, four and five or more nuclei (n) and by measuring the density of adherent mononuclear cells for each subject studied. We found no clear-cut difference in MNGC formation between the three subject groups. Moreover, a substantial number of cultures, encompassing the three groups, showed far more MNGCs per 10(5) monocytes than previously reported. Various parametric and nonparametric statistical analyses were performed on the multinucleate cell data and only one parametric test, which utilised the density of monolayers as a co-variate, showed a statistically significant difference at the 5% level between the breast cancer and the normal subject groups. We observed marked subject-to-subject variation in multinucleate cell formation and we suggest that the evidence for a difference between the breast cancer and the normal groups is marginal. Further, MNGC formation by breast cancer monocytes may not be attributed to the presence of a retrovirus since 5'-Azacytidine (AZA), an agent known to stimulate replication of latent retroviruses showed no effect on the MNGC formation. In addition, culture supernatants from the three groups were assayed for RT activity and no test sample gave a significant signal above background. Preliminary transmission electron microscopy analysis failed to identify viral particles in MNGCs.

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