Characterization of porcine endogenous retrovirus expression in neonatal and adult pig pancreatic islets

Nizar I. Mourad, Claire Crossan, Victoria Cruikshank, Linda Scobie, Pierre Gianello*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
107 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Pig islets represent an alternative to the current modes of treatment for patients with diabetes. However, the concerns over pathogen transmission including that of PERV limit their immediate, widespread usage in humans. It has been previously demonstrated that PERV copy number and particularly expression levels can vary considerably between individuals and within different tissues of a single animal. In general, expression levels have been found to be particularly low in the pancreas compared to other porcine tissues suggesting a reduced risk associated with the use of this tissue. Data regarding this crucial aspect, however, remain limited and little is known about PERV status of islets themselves, which represent the final product to be transplanted. In addition, comparative analysis of the PERV status of neonatal piglets with adults is important as they are increasingly considered as potential islet donors for xenotransplantation. Methods: Tissue samples from 51 neonatal piglets (age between 14 and 21 days) and 29 adult pigs were collected from Belgian landrace pigs used for pancreas procurement and islet isolation. Tissue biopsies were used to extract DNA for PERV copy number quantification by qPCR and RNA for PERV expression by qRT-PCR. Results: As expected, PERV expression demonstrated great variation and was significantly lower in pancreas compared to other tissues. More importantly, PERV RNA expression was found to be specifically enriched in pancreatic islets reaching values similar to those found in other tissues such as liver and kidney. Interestingly, this expression was not coupled with the detection of reverse transcriptase in islet cultures or indeed detection of PERV virus. Lung, spleen, and lymph node consistently showed the highest levels of PERV expression. Comparison of PERV in neonatal and adult pigs showed that copy number did not vary significantly from birth to adulthood. PERV expression on the other hand was significantly lower in neonatal pig islets compared to adult islets and did not increase over the period of culture. Conclusion: Our study confirms the low level of PERV expression in whole pancreas in a large population of both neonatal and adult pigs (n=80). The level of PERV expression was however higher in the endocrine tissue than in the exocrine cells. There was no correlation between PERV status in donor PBMCs and islet cells, and no evidence of active replication in in vitro regardless of PERV expression in islet cells. Moreover, neonatal pig islets were found to have significantly lower PERV expression compared to adult islets. Neonatal islets have been suggested as the best choice for xenotransplantation in terms of economic and procurement considerations; the PERV status reported here would also potentially support their use.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12311
Issue number4
Early online date26 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017


  • porcine endogenous retrovirus
  • pancreatic islets
  • virology


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