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Retrovirology. 2010 Dec 20;7:109. doi: 10.1186/1742-4690-7-109.

Contamination of human DNA samples with mouse DNA can lead to false detection of XMRV-like sequences.

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Department of Pathology, Tufts University School of Medicine, 150 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA 02111, USA.



In 2006, a novel gammaretrovirus, XMRV (xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus), was discovered in some prostate tumors. A more recent study indicated that this infectious retrovirus can be detected in 67% of patients suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), but only very few healthy controls (4%). However, several groups have published to date that they could not identify XMRV RNA or DNA sequences in other cohorts of CFS patients, while another group detected murine leukemia virus (MLV)-like sequences in 87% of such patients, but only 7% of healthy controls. Since there is a high degree of similarity between XMRV and abundant endogenous MLV proviruses, it is important to distinguish contaminating mouse sequences from true infections.


DNA from the peripheral blood of 112 CFS patients and 36 healthy controls was tested for XMRV with two different PCR assays. A TaqMan qPCR assay specific for XMRV pol sequences was able to detect viral DNA from 2 XMRV-infected cells (~ 10-12 pg DNA) in up to 5 μg of human genomic DNA, but yielded negative results in the test of 600 ng genomic DNA from 100,000 peripheral blood cells of all samples tested. However, positive results were obtained with some of these samples, using a less specific nested PCR assay for a different XMRV sequence. DNA sequencing of the PCR products revealed a wide variety of virus-related sequences, some identical to those found in prostate cancer and CFS patients, others more closely related to known endogenous MLVs. However, all samples that tested positive for XMRV and/or MLV DNA were also positive for the highly abundant intracisternal A-type particle (IAP) long terminal repeat and most were positive for murine mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase sequences. No contamination was observed in any of the negative control samples, containing those with no DNA template, which were included in each assay.


Mouse cells contain upwards of 100 copies each of endogenous MLV DNA. Even much less than one cell's worth of DNA can yield a detectable product using highly sensitive PCR technology. It is, therefore, vital that contamination by mouse DNA be monitored with adequately sensitive assays in all samples tested.

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