Aims/hypothesis: Pig islets could transmit porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERV) to diabetic patients. Our previous work showed that pig islets expressed low levels of PERV mRNA and were not likely to transmit PERV to human cells in vitro. The real risk of infection during pig tissue xenografts can only be evaluated by in vivo experiments.
Methods: Nude mice bearing tumours containing human 293 cells were grafted with specific pathogen-free pig islets or PERV-producing pig PK15 cells to determine whether pig cells could transmit PERV to mouse and human cells in vivo. Infection was monitored by PCR, long PCR, RT-PCR and long RT-PCR. As detection of PERV sequences could be due to the presence of residual pig cells, we looked for pig mitochondrial (mt) DNA. Quantitative PCR for PERV and pig mt DNA was done to compare the PERV-to-pig mt (P-to-M) ratio of each sample with the reference ratio for grafted pig cells.
Results: Among 78 mouse tissues from PK15-grafted mice, 54 and 72 were positive for gag and pig mt DNA, respectively. Human tumours developed in these mice were positive for PERV (78%) and pig mt (89%). The P-to-M ratios for mouse tissues and PERV-positive human tumours from PK15-grafted mice were higher than the ratio in PK15 cells. Among 41 tissues from pig islet cell-grafted mice, 7 were positive for PERV (3 lymph nodes, 1 kidney, 2 salivary glands, 1 ovary), and 14 were positive for pig mt DNA. Three of these samples (1 lymph node, 1 kidney and 1 salivary gland) were positive for gag DNA, but negative for pig mt DNA. One human tumour in these mice was positive for PERV DNA. P-to-M reference ratio in grafted islet cells was 0.05+/-0.03. The three PERV-positive lymph nodes contained 78 gag/3 mt copies (P-to-M: 26), 101 gag/3 mt copies (P-to-M: 34), and 4 gag/0 mt copies. The two PERV-positive salivary glands contained 14 gag/1 mt copies, and 28 gag/0 mt copies. The ovary and the kidney contained 46 gag/3 mt and 69 gag/0 mt copies, respectively. The PERV-positive human tumour contained 47 gag/3 mt copies.
Conclusions/interpretation: Microchimerism and PERV transmission were frequently observed in both mouse and human tissues during grafting of pig PK15 cells into nude mice bearing human tumours, and sometimes during pig islet xenograft in this model. This strengthens the notion that there is a risk of transmitting PERV during pig islet xenograft.