For xenotransplantation, the transplantation of animal cells, tissues and organs into human recipients, to date, pigs are favored as potential donors. Beside ethical, immunological, physiological and technical problems, the microbiological safety of the xenograft has to be guaranteed. It will be possible to eliminate all of the known porcine microorganisms in the nearby future by vaccinating or specified pathogen-free breeding. Thus, the main risk will come from the porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs) which are present in the pig genome as proviruses of different subtypes. PERVs will therefore be transmitted, with the xenograft, to the human recipient. PERVs can infect numerous different types of human primary cells and cell lines in vitro and were shown to adapt to these cells by serial passaging on uninfected cells. Furthermore, PERVs have high homology to other retroviruses, such as feline leukemia virus (FeLV) or murine leukemia virus (MuLV), which are known to induce tumors or immunodeficiencies in the infected host. To evaluate the potential risk of a trans-species transmission of PERV in vivo, naive and immunosuppressed rats, guinea pigs and minks were inoculated with PERV and screened over a period of 3 months for an antibody reaction against PERV proteins or for the integration of proviral DNA into the genomic DNA of the host's cells. Furthermore, we inoculated three different species of non-human primates, rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta), pig-tailed monkey (Macaca nemestrina) and baboon (Papio hamadryas) with high titers of a human-adapted PERV. To simulate a situation in xenotransplantation, the animals received a daily triple immunosuppression using cyclosporine A, methylprednisolone and RAD, a rapamycin derivative, presently under development by Novartis. None of the small laboratory animals or the non-human primates showed production of antibodies against PERV or evidence of integration of proviral DNA in blood cells or cells of several organs, 3 months after virus inoculation, despite the observation that cells of the animals used in the experiment were infectible in vitro. This apparent difference in the outcome of the in vitro and the in vivo data might be explained by an efficient elimination of the virus by the innate or adaptive immunity of the animals. © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
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