Simian virus 40 (SV40) and human cancer: a review of the serological data

Rev Med Virol. Jul-Aug 2004;14(4):231-9. doi: 10.1002/rmv.432.


Serum antibodies are widely utilised as specific and sensitive markers of virus infections but they have been employed relatively infrequently in the investigation of simian virus 40 (SV40) as a human carcinogen. In the past few years, serological data have become available which allow an examination of whether SV40 is currently circulating in human communities and if SV40 infection is associated with human cancer. The development of EIA with virus-like particles (VLPs) of SV40, BKV and JCV has facilitated serological studies. Sera from macaques naturally infected with SV40 cross-react unambiguously with BKV and JCV VLPs. Tests of over 9000 human sera with different immunological assays reveal a common pattern of SV40 reactivity. A small proportion of sera react at low titers and this reactivity is unrelated to age or the geographic location of the donor, but correlates with the presence and titers of BKV and JCV antibodies. Absorption with BKV and JCV VLPs decreases or abolishes the SV40 reactivity of human sera. The SV40 reactivity of sera from patients with mesothelioma, osteosarcoma or lymphomas, cancers which are reported to be associated with SV40, was similar to that in their controls or other comparison groups. The SV40 reactivity of human sera appears to be almost entirely a result of cross-reactivity with BKV and JCV antibodies. Serological data thus do not support the possibility that SV40 is circulating in human communities or that it is associated with human cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / virology
  • Polyomavirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Polyomavirus Infections / virology
  • Serology
  • Simian virus 40 / immunology*
  • Tumor Virus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Tumor Virus Infections / virology


  • Antibodies, Viral