The origin of porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs)


Porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs) are integrated in the genome of all pigs, and they produce viral particles that are able to infect human cells and therefore pose a special risk for xenotransplantation. In contrast to other pig microorganisms that also pose a risk, such as porcine cytomegalovirus and hepatitis E virus, PERVs cannot be eliminated from pigs by vaccines, antiviral drugs, early weaning, or embryo transfer. Since PERVs are relevant for xenotransplantation, their biology and origin are of great interest. Recent studies have shown that PERVs are the result of a transspecies transmission of precursor retroviruses from different animals and further evolution in the pig genome. PERVs acquired different long terminal repeats (LTRs), and recombination took place. In parallel, it has been shown that the activity of the LTRs and recombination in the envelope are important for the transmissibility and pathogenesis of PERVs. Transspecies transmission of retroviruses is common, a well-known example being the transmission of precursor retroviruses from non-human primates to humans, resulting in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Here, recent findings concerning the origin of PERVs, their LTRs, and recombination events that occurred during evolution are reviewed and compared with other findings regarding transspecies transmission of retroviruses.

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The studies performed in my laboratory were supported by the German Research Foundation, TRR127.

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Denner, J. The origin of porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs). Arch Virol 166, 1007–1013 (2021).

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