Long-term safety from transmission of porcine endogenous retrovirus after pig-to-non-human primate corneal transplantation

Xenotransplantation. 2017 Jul;24(4):10.1111/xen.12314. doi: 10.1111/xen.12314. Epub 2017 May 14.


Background: The risk of xenozoonosis mainly by porcine endogenous retrovirus (PERV) has been considered as one of the main hurdles in xenotransplantation and therefore should be elucidated prior to the clinical use of porcine corneal grafts. Accordingly, an investigation was performed to analyze the infectivity of PERVs from porcine keratocytes to human cells, and the long-term risk of transmission of PERVs was determined using pig-to-non-human primate (NHP) corneal transplantation models.

Methods: The infectivity of PERVs from the SNU miniature pig keratocytes was investigated by coculture with a human embryonic kidney cell line. Twenty-two rhesus macaques underwent xenocorneal transplantation as follows: (i) group 1 (n=4): anterior lamellar keratoplasty (LKP) with freshly preserved porcine corneas, (ii) group 2 (n=5): anterior LKP with decellularized porcine corneas followed by penetrating keratoplasty (PKP) with allografts, (iii) group 3 (n=3): PKP under steroid-based immunosuppression, (iv) group 4 (n=4): PKP under anti-CD154 antibody-based immunosuppression, (v) group 5 (n=4): deep anterior LKP with freshly preserved porcine corneas under anti-CD40 antibody-based immunosuppression, and (vi) group 6 (n=2): PKP under anti-CD40 antibody-based immunosuppression. Postoperative blood samples were serially collected, and tissue samples were obtained from thirteen different organs at the end of each experiment. The existence of PERV DNA and RNA was investigated using PCR and RT-PCR.

Results: Using two independent in vitro infectivity tests, neither PERV pol nor pig mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase II was detected after 41 and 92 days of coculture, respectively. After xenocorneal transplantation, a total of 257 serial peripheral blood mononuclear cell samples, 34 serial plasma samples, and 282 tissue samples were obtained from the NHP recipients up to 1176 days post-transplantation. No PERV transmission was evident in any samples.

Conclusions: Within the limits of this study, there is no evidence to support any risk of PERV transmission from porcine corneal tissues to NHP recipients, despite the existence of PERV-expressing cells in porcine corneas.

Keywords: porcine endogenous retrovirus; xenocorneal transplantation; xenozoonosis.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CD40 Ligand / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Corneal Transplantation / adverse effects*
  • Corneal Transplantation / methods
  • Endogenous Retroviruses*
  • Heterografts / virology*
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / virology*
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Retroviridae Infections / transmission*
  • Swine
  • Time
  • Transplantation, Heterologous


  • CD40 Ligand