Background: Recent demonstration of human cell infection in vitro with porcine endogenous retrovirus (PERV) has raised safety concerns for new therapies that involve transplantation of pig cells or organs to humans. To assess better the specific risk that may be associated with the transplantation of fetal pig neuronal cells to the central nervous system of patients suffering from intractable neurologic disorders (Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, and epilepsy), we have performed studies to determine whether there is evidence for in vivo or in vitro transmission of PERV from fetal pig neuronal cells to human cells.
Methods: Ventral mesencephalon (VM) and lateral ganglionic eminence cells were isolated from fetal pigs and transplanted into patients with neurological conditions as part of clinical studies. Blood samples taken from patients at various time points posttransplant were tested for evidence of PERV. In vitro studies to test for PERV infection of human cells after cocultivation with either fetal porcine ventral mesencephalon or porcine fetal lateral ganglionic eminence cells were also performed.
Results: We found no evidence of PERV provirus integration in the DNA from PBMC of 24 neuronal transplant recipients. In addition, no PERV was released from cultured fetal porcine neuronal cultures, and there was no transfer of PERV from fetal pig neuronal cells to human cells in vitro.
Conclusions: Our results demonstrate by both examination of transplant patient blood samples and in vitro studies that there is no evidence for transmission of PERV from porcine fetal neural cells to human cells.