Cell and molecular biology of simian virus 40: implications for human infections and disease

J Natl Cancer Inst. 1999 Jan 20;91(2):119-34. doi: 10.1093/jnci/91.2.119.


Simian virus 40 (SV40), a polyomavirus of rhesus macaque origin, was discovered in 1960 as a contaminant of polio vaccines that were distributed to millions of people from 1955 through early 1963. SV40 is a potent DNA tumor virus that induces tumors in rodents and transforms many types of cells in culture, including those of human origin. This virus has been a favored laboratory model for mechanistic studies of molecular processes in eukaryotic cells and of cellular transformation. The viral replication protein, named large T antigen (T-ag), is also the viral oncoprotein. There is a single serotype of SV40, but multiple strains of virus exist that are distinguishable by nucleotide differences in the regulatory region of the viral genome and in the part of the T-ag gene that encodes the protein's carboxyl terminus. Natural infections in monkeys by SV40 are usually benign but may become pathogenic in immunocompromised animals, and multiple tissues can be infected. SV40 can replicate in certain types of simian and human cells. SV40-neutralizing antibodies have been detected in individuals not exposed to contaminated polio vaccines. SV40 DNA has been identified in some normal human tissues, and there are accumulating reports of detection of SV40 DNA and/or T-ag in a variety of human tumors. This review presents aspects of replication and cell transformation by SV40 and considers their implications for human infections and disease pathogenesis by the virus. Critical assessment of virologic and epidemiologic data suggests a probable causative role for SV40 in certain human cancers, but additional studies are necessary to prove etiology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Neoplasms / virology*
  • Polyomavirus Infections / complications*
  • Polyomavirus Infections / virology
  • Simian virus 40 / genetics*
  • Tumor Virus Infections / complications*
  • Tumor Virus Infections / virology