BACKGROUND: We used a PCR-based approach to study the prevalence of genetic sequences related to a gammaretrovirus, xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus, XMRV, in human prostate cancer. This virus has been identified in the US in prostate cancer patients and in those with chronic fatigue syndrome. However, with the exception of two patients in Germany, XMRV has not been identified in prostate cancer tissue in Europe. Most putative associations of new or old human retroviruses with diseases have turned out to be due to contamination. We have looked for XMRV sequences in DNA extracted from formalin-fixed paraffin- embedded prostate tissues. To control for contamination, PCR assays to detect either mouse mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) or intracisternal A particle (IAP) long terminal repeat DNA were run on all samples, owing to their very high copy number in mouse cells. RESULTS: In general agreement with the US prevalence, XMRV-like sequences were found in 4.8% of prostate cancers. However, these were also positive, as were 21.5% of XMRV-negative cases, for IAP sequences, and many, but not all were positive for mtDNA sequences. CONCLUSIONS: These results show that contamination with mouse DNA is widespread and detectable by the highly sensitive IAP assay, but not always with less sensitive assays, such as murine mtDNA PCR. This study highlights the ubiquitous presence of mouse DNA in laboratory specimens and offers a means of rigorous validation for future studies of murine retroviruses in human disease.
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