Lack of evidence for xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) in German prostate cancer patients

Article (PDF Available)inRetrovirology 6(1):92 · October 2009with45 Reads
DOI: 10.1186/1742-4690-6-92 · Source: PubMed
A novel gammaretrovirus named xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) has been recently identified and found to have a prevalence of 40% in prostate tumor samples from American patients carrying a homozygous R462Q mutation in the RNaseL gene. This mutation impairs the function of the innate antiviral type I interferon pathway and is a known susceptibility factor for prostate cancer. Here, we attempt to measure the prevalence of XMRV in prostate cancer cases in Germany and determine whether an analogous association with the R462Q polymorphism exists. 589 prostate tumor samples were genotyped by real-time PCR with regard to the RNaseL mutation. DNA and RNA samples from these patients were screened for the presence of XMRV-specific gag sequences using a highly sensitive nested PCR and RT-PCR approach. Furthermore, 146 sera samples from prostate tumor patients were tested for XMRV Gag and Env antibodies using a newly developed ELISA assay. In agreement with earlier data, 12.9% (76 samples) were shown to be of the QQ genotype. However, XMRV specific sequences were detected at neither the DNA nor the RNA level. Consistent with this result, none of the sera analyzed from prostate cancer patients contained XMRV-specific antibodies. Our results indicate a much lower prevalence (or even complete absence) of XMRV in prostate tumor patients in Germany. One possible reason for this could be a geographically restricted incidence of XMRV infections.
BioMed Central
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Open Access
Lack of evidence for xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related
virus(XMRV) in German prostate cancer patients
Oliver Hohn
, Hans Krause
, Pia Barbarotto
, Lars Niederstadt
Nadine Beimforde
, Joachim Denner
, Kurt Miller
, Reinhard Kurth
Norbert Bannert*
Robert Koch-Institute, Centre for Biological Safety 4, Nordufer 20, 13353 Berlin, Germany,
Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin,
Urologische Klinik, Schumannstraße 20/21, 10117 Berlin, Germany,
Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Hindenburgdamm 30, 12203 Berlin
Robert Koch-Institute, Retrovirus induced immunosuppression (P13), Nordufer 20, 13353 Berlin, Germany
Email: Oliver Hohn -; Hans Krause -; Pia Barbarotto -;
Lars Niederstadt -; Nadine Beimforde -; Joachim Denner -;
Kurt Miller -; Reinhard Kurth -; Norbert Bannert* -
* Corresponding author †Equal contributors
Background: A novel gammaretrovirus named xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus
(XMRV) has been recently identified and found to have a prevalence of 40% in prostate tumor
samples from American patients carrying a homozygous R462Q mutation in the RNaseL gene. This
mutation impairs the function of the innate antiviral type I interferon pathway and is a known
susceptibility factor for prostate cancer. Here, we attempt to measure the prevalence of XMRV in
prostate cancer cases in Germany and determine whether an analogous association with the
R462Q polymorphism exists.
Results: 589 prostate tumor samples were genotyped by real-time PCR with regard to the
RNaseL mutation. DNA and RNA samples from these patients were screened for the presence of
XMRV-specific gag sequences using a highly sensitive nested PCR and RT-PCR approach.
Furthermore, 146 sera samples from prostate tumor patients were tested for XMRV Gag and Env
antibodies using a newly developed ELISA assay. In agreement with earlier data, 12.9% (76 samples)
were shown to be of the QQ genotype. However, XMRV specific sequences were detected at
neither the DNA nor the RNA level. Consistent with this result, none of the sera analyzed from
prostate cancer patients contained XMRV-specific antibodies.
Conclusion: Our results indicate a much lower prevalence (or even complete absence) of XMRV
in prostate tumor patients in Germany. One possible reason for this could be a geographically
restricted incidence of XMRV infections.
Prostate cancer (PCa) is currently the most commonly
diagnosed cancer in European males and causes approxi-
mately 80,000 deaths per year [1]. Modern methods of
diagnosis and extensive programs for early detection have
increased the chances for successful treatment in recent
Published: 16 October 2009
Retrovirology 2009, 6:92 doi:10.1186/1742-4690-6-92
Received: 3 July 2009
Accepted: 16 October 2009
This article is available from:
© 2009 Hohn et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Retrovirology 2009, 6:92
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years, but there is still only limited knowledge concerning
susceptibility and putative risk factors for PCa. In addition
to age, the risk factors for developing PCa are thought to
be diet, alcohol consumption, exposure to ultraviolet
radiation [2], and genetic factors [3]. One of the first stud-
ies to investigate the hereditary factors associated with a
predisposition for developing prostate cancer identified
the HPC1 locus (hereditary prostate cancer locus-1) [4],
which is now known to harbor the RNaseL gene. RNaseL
codes for a endoribonuclease involved in the IFN-regu-
lated antiviral defense pathway (reviewed by [5]). The sig-
nificance of RNaseL gene polymorphisms for the
development of prostate cancer is still under scrutiny. The
R462Q (rs486907) polymorphism for example is impli-
cated in up to 13% of all US prostate cancer cases [6] and
three other variants contribute to familial prostate cancer
risk in the Japanese population [7], whereas no significant
association with disease risk could be found in the Ger-
man population [8].
Recently, an analysis for viral sequences in prostate cancer
stroma tissues using custom-made microarrays resulted in
the discovery of a new gammaretrovirus named xenotropic
murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV), [9,10]. XMRV
was present in eight of twenty (40%) cases in patients
with familial prostate cancer that were homozygous at the
R462Q locus for the QQ allel. On the other hand, the
virus could be detected in only 1.5% of carriers of the RQ
or RR allels. In subsequent studies involving smaller
cohorts of European prostate cancer patients, the preva-
lence and correlation of the QQ-phenotype with the pres-
ence of XMRV were either far less significant [11] or the
virus could not be detected at all [12]. Very recently XMRV
was recognized by immunohistochemistry in 23% of
prostate cancers from US American donors, independent
of the R462Q polymorphism [13].
This present study describes the development and use of
sensitive PCR and RT-PCR assays to test DNA and RNA
from 589 PCa tumor samples obtained from the Charité
hospital in Berlin (Germany) for the presence of proviral
XMRV DNA and corresponding viral transcripts. In addi-
tion, we used an ELISA based on recombinant XMRV pro-
teins to screen 146 PCa patient sera for viral Env- and Gag-
specific antibodies. Neither in the 76 specimens
homozygous for the QQ allele, nor in any of the other
samples could XMRV or a related gammaretrovirus be
detected. Furthermore, none of the sera contained anti-
bodies specific for the XMRV Env or Gag proteins.
Tissue samples were collected from 589 patients undergo-
ing radical prostatectomy for histologically proven pri-
mary prostate cancer at the Department of Urology,
Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, between 2000 and
2006. Institutional review board approval for this study
was obtained and all patients gave their informed consent
prior to surgery. Tissue samples were obtained immedi-
ately after surgery, snap-frozen in liquid nitrogen and
stored at -80°C. Histopathologic classification of the sam-
ples was based on the World Health Organization and
1997 TNM classification guidelines (International Union
Against Cancer, 1997). The patient's median age was 63
years (range 43 - 80). The serum PSA levels were measured
prior to surgery and ranged from 0.1 to 100 ng/ml
(median 7.5 ng/ml). 405 of 589 patients (69%) had
organ-confined disease (pT2) while the remaining 31%
had non organ-confined disease (pT3 and pT4). Using the
Gleason-score (GS) system, the sample population was
divided into low-grade tumors (GS 2-6, n = 282), interme-
diate cases (GS 7, n = 175), and high-grade prostate carci-
nomas (GS 8-10, n = 68).
Nucleic acid isolation
Frozen tissues were mechanically sliced and immediately
lysed in DNA- or RNA-lysis buffer, column-purified, and
eluted (50-200 l) according to the manufacturers
instructions (QIAamp DNA Mini Kit, RNeasy Mini Kit,
QIAGEN GmbH, Hilden, Germany). The OD
and nucleic acid concentrations were determined using
the Nanodrop-1000 instrument (PeqLab Biotechnologie
GmbH, Erlangen, Germany). In addition, RNA samples
were checked for integrity using a Bioanalzyer-2100 (Agi-
lent Technologies, Inc., Santa Clara CA, United States).
No additional macro-/micro-dissections were performed
on the prostate tissues because viral nucleic acids were
expected to be present preferentially in the stromal com-
Diagnostic PCR
A nested PCR was developed for the detection of XMRV
sequences that amplifies regions upstream of the gag start
codon, harboring the unique 24 nt deletion [10]. First, we
constructed by fusion-PCR a synthetic gene representing
the region from nucleotide 1 to 800 of the MLV DG-75
(Genbank acc. number AF221065
). This fragment was
cloned into the pCR4-TOPO vector (Invitrogen, Karl-
sruhe, Germany), and the identity of the fragment was
confirmed by sequencing. The same procedure was used
to clone a corresponding 800 nt fragment for use as a pos-
itive control of the XMRV genome (Genbank acc. num.
). Conditions of first round PCR for the detec-
tion of proviral sequences were: 100 ng patient DNA,
primer Out-For 5'-CCGTGTTCCCAATAAAGCCT-3', Out-
Rev 5'-TGACATCCACAGACTGGTTG-3', (30 sec @ 94°C,
30 sec @ 60°C, 30 sec @ 72°C) × 20 cycles. Using 1/10
of the first reaction and primer In-For 5'-GCAGCCCT-
GCG-3' the second round PCR is able to detect any XMRV-
Retrovirology 2009, 6:92
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like sequences, e.g. MLV DG-75. In addition, using a
primer spanning the XMRV-specific deletion 5'-
CCCCAACAAAGCCACTCCAAAA-3' we were able to dis-
tinguish between XMRV and DG75 sequences. Second
round PCR reaction was performed at an elevated anneal-
ing temperature of 64°C for 35 cycles.
A nested-PCR strategy was used to detect XMRV-specific
viral RNAs in the total RNA of prostate tissue samples in
which the first round RT-PCR was performed as described
above using In-For and In-Rev followed by a quantitative
real-time PCR published by Dong et al., 2007 [9,14]. As an
internal control, a human GAPDH specific primer and
probe set were included in which the primers for the outer
RT-PCR were the same as for the inner PCR: forward 5'-
CACACCCATGACGA-3' and the probe 5'-YAK-TTCAC-
CACCATGGAGAAGGCTGGG-Eclipse Dark quencher-3'
RNaseL genotyping
A real-time PCR setup designed by Olfert Landt/TIB MOL-
BIOL, Berlin was used for RNaseL genotyping of tumor
samples which detects the single nucleotide polymor-
phism G1385A (rs486907) responsible for the R462Q
mutation. PCR was carried out with R462Q_F CCTAT-
GGAAAATGAGGAAG and the probes R462Q_(A) YAK-
a two-step protocol with 95°C for 20 sec and 60°C for 1
min. Positive controls were constructed by fusion PCR,
starting with 40 mer oligonucleotides, of the two 297 bp
fragments corresponding to the "R"- and "Q" versions of
the RNAseL genomic region and cloning these into the
pCR4-TOPO vector (Invitrogen). For each PCR, positive
control plasmids containing the R- or Q-sequence were
Recombinant Proteins, Immunization
Recombinant proteins of XMRV pr65 (Gag) and gp70
(Env/SU) were generated for immunization and for the
ELISA assays. For XMRV Env/SU, a fragment containing
the amino acids 1-245 of the surface unit (gp70) was
amplified, cloned in pET16b vector (Novagen, Gibbs-
town, USA) and expressed in BL21 E. coli. For XMRV Gag
(pr65), two fragments (amino acids 1-272 and 259-535)
that overlap by 14 amino acids were constructed. The
expressed proteins were affinity purified using a Ni-NTA
column and eluted in 8 M urea, and proteins for immuni-
zation were subsequently dialyzed against phosphate
buffered saline. BALB/c mice were immunized with the
recombinant fragments of the Envelope or Gag proteins,
and sera were collected throughout the period of four
immunizations. All animal experiments were performed
in accordance with institutional and state guidelines.
Two weeks after the last immunization the mice were
bled, and serum antibodies were measured by solid phase
enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Briefly,
bacterially expressed and purified (via His-tag) protein
fragments were coated overnight on Probind-96-well
plates (Becton Dickinson Labware Europe, Le Pont de
Claix, France) at room temperature in equimolar
amounts. The plates were blocked with 2% Marvel milk
powder in phosphate buffered saline (PBS) for 2 h at
37°C, washed three times with PBS, 0.05% Tween 20 and
serial diluted mouse sera or patient sera at a 1:200 dilu-
tion in PBS with 2% milk powder and 0.05% Tween20
added into each well. After incubation for 1 hour at 37°C,
each well was again washed three times and a 1:1000 dilu-
tion of a goat anti-mouse IgG-HRP conjugate (Sigma
Aldrich, Munich, Germany) in PBS, 2% milk powder,
0.05% Tween 20 (Serva, Heidelberg, Germany) was
added. After further incubation for 1 hour at 37°C, each
well was again washed three times. The chromogen ortho-
phenylendiamin (OPD) in 0.05 M phosphate-citrate
buffer, pH 5.0 containing 4 l of a 30% solution of the
hydrogen peroxide substrate per 10 ml was then added.
After 5-10 minutes the color development was stopped by
addition of sulphuric acid and the absorbance at 492 nm/
620 nm was measured in a microplate reader.
Patient sera were tested for XMRV-Gag or -Env binding
antibodies in the same way, using a goat anti-human IgG-
HRP conjugate as secondary antibody (Sigma Aldrich,
Munich, Germany). Out of the 146 sera samples only
from 30 patients the corresponding nucleic acids were
included in the 589 DNA/RNA samples.
Immunofluorescence microscopy
Cells were grown on gelatine (0.3% coldwater fish gela-
tine in distilled water) coated glass slides in 12-well plates
and 24 h after seeding were transfected using Polyfect Rea-
gent (Qiagen) with the full length molecular clone
pCDNA3.1-VP62 or with the pTH-XMRV-coEnv or pTH-
XMRV-coGAG plasmids containing codon optimized syn-
thetic full-length genes of the XMRV env or gag under con-
trol of the CMV promoter. 48 h after transfection the cells
were fixed with 2% formaldehyde (Sigma) in PBS. Cells
were rinsed briefly in PBS, permeabilized with 0.5% Tri-
ton X-100 in PBS for 15 min and washed 3 times with
PBS. After 30 min incubation with blocking buffer (2%
Marvel milk powder in PBS) cells were incubated for 60
min at 37°C with the mouse or human antisera diluted
1:200 in blocking buffer. The slides were washed exten-
sively with PBS. The secondary antibodies conjugated to
fluorophores were added for 30 min. After thorough
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washing steps with PBS, the cells were mounted in
Mowiol and the glass slides were placed upside-down on
microscopy slides. Images were obtained on a Zeiss
(LSM510) confocal laser-scanning microscope.
Electron Microscopy
Transfected cells were fixed with 2.5 % glutaraldehyde in
0.05 M Hepes (pH 7.2) for 1 h at room temperature. Fix-
atives were prepared immediately before use. The samples
were embedded in epoxy resin (Epon) after dehydration
in a series of ethanol solutions (30%, 50%, 70%, 95%,
and 100%) and infiltrated with the resin using mixtures of
propylene oxide and resin followed by pure resin. Polym-
erization was carried out at 60°C for 48 h. Ultrathin sec-
tions (60-80 nm) were cut with an ultramicrotome
(Ultracut S or UCT; Leica, Germany) and picked up on
slot grids covered with a pioloform supporting film. To
add contrast, sections were stained with uranyl acetate
(2% in distilled water) and lead citrate (0.1% in distilled
water). Sections were examined with a FEI Tecnai G2
transmission electron microscope.
Determination of the RNaseL genotype of prostate cancer
The highly significant correlation between XMRV-positive
prostate cancers and homozygosity for the QQ allel of the
RNaseL SNP R462Q previously published [9,10]
prompted us to analyze the genotypes of all 589 PCa sam-
ples included in our study. The DNA was extracted from
prostate biopsies consisting of tumour cells and surround-
ing stromal tissue. Using a real-time PCR method that
allows the underlying G1385A mutation at the DNA level
to be detected, 76 specimens (12.9 %) were found to be
homozygous for the QQ genotype. The RQ and RR geno-
types were present at frequencies of 52.5% and 34.6%
respectively (Fig. 1). All samples were screened in dupli-
cate and gave consistent results.
Screening for proviral XMRV sequences by nested PCRs
We developed a nested PCR able to detect and discrimi-
nate between XMRV and proviral sequences closely
related to the endogenous murine gammaretrovirus DG-
75 [16]. This discrimination is based on the XMRV-spe-
cific 24 nt deletion within a conserved retroviral region
(Fig. 2A). To facilitate the development of the nested PCR
and to evaluate its sensitivity, we constructed de novo the
corresponding XMRV genomic region (nt 1-800 of the
XMRV VP62 sequence) via fusion-PCR of oligonucle-
otides and cloned this fragment into the pCR4-TOPO vec-
tor to generate the pXMRV plasmid. In addition, the
corresponding sequence of the DG-75 provirus was
assembled and cloned in the same way to yield the pDG-
75 vector.
Chromosomal DNA from a healthy human was spiked
with serial 1:10 dilutions of pXMRV and used to assess the
sensitivity of the nested PCRs. Following the first round
that used the outer primers, two parallel second rounds
with the primer pair In-For/In-Rev and In-For/Deletion-
Rev were performed.
Both primer pairs allowed the specific detection of 10 or
more copies of their targets. Use of the primers In-For/In-
Rev with the pXMRV template resulted in a 174 nt PCR
product, and a 198 nt product was produced with pDG-75
as template (Fig. 2B). Mouse tail DNA was also included
as a positive control to amplify a 198 nt sequence from
murine endogenous DG-75-like proviruses. As expected,
no PCR signal was generated if the In-For/Deletion-Rev
primer pair was used with pDG-75 or mouse tail DNA as
template (Fig. 2C, lower panel, lane 17 and lane 21).
All 589 DNAs isolated from prostate biopsies were
screened using the nested PCR setup and primer combina-
tions described. The successful RNAseL genotyping of all
589 samples confirmed DNA integrity and the absence of
PCR inhibitors in the samples. Specific fragments indicat-
ing the presence of XMRV (Fig. 2C upper panel) or a DG-
75 related gammaretrovirus were obtained from none of
the samples (Fig. 2C lower panel).
Examination of total RNA for the presence of XMRV
To assess corresponding RNA samples, a comparable
approach was used in which a first round RT-PCR for
cDNA synthesis with primers amplifying XMRV and DG-
75-like sequences was followed by quantitative real-time
PCR for the specific detection of XMRV (Fig. 3A). Prelim-
inary experiments performed with XMRV RNA (kindly
provided by R. Silverman) indicated the ability to detect
Analysis of sample DNA with allele specific real time PCR for the R462Q genotypeFigure 1
Analysis of sample DNA with allele specific real time
PCR for the R462Q genotype. 76 of 589 samples (12.9%)
are homozygous for the QQ allele, 204 samples (34.6%) are
homozygous for the RR allele and 309 (52.5%) are hetero-
QQ (mut) RR (WT) QR
No. of samples
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as few as 10 transcripts (e.g. Fig. 3B), and the reproducible
sensitivity to detect 100 transcripts. A human GAPDH
primer and probe set was used in each sample as an inter-
nal control for the integrity of the RNA. Whereas all 589
samples generated a positive GAPDH signal with Ct-val-
ues between 16 and 20, no signals with the XMRV specific
probe were obtained (Fig. 3C).
XMRV antibody detection
Productive infection of humans by a murine gammaretro-
virus related virus should induce an antibody response.
Fragments of the cloned XMRV VP62 envelope (gp70)
and the gag (pr65) protein were expressed in E. coli to pro-
vide a basis for an ELISA to detect XMRV-specific antibod-
ies in the sera of prostate cancer patients. One fragment
spanning the region from amino acids 1 to 245 of Env and
two overlapping fragments spanning Gag were expressed
and purified via an N-terminal His-tag.
Sera from immunized Balb/c mice (but not pre-immune
sera) were reactive in ELISA against the recombinant pro-
teins (data not shown). In addition, the specificity of the
antibodies was confirmed by immunofluorescence micro-
scopy using HEK 293T cells transfected with the expres-
sion plasmid pcDNA3.1-VP62 (kindly provided by R.
Silverman) that carries the sequence of the replication
active XMRV molecular clone (Fig. 4A and 4B). After trans-
fection, these cells produce gammaretroviral particles vis-
Nested PCR for sensitive screening of patient tumor tissue DNAFigure 2
Nested PCR for sensitive screening of patient tumor tissue DNA. (A) A nested PCR primer setup was used as indi-
cated for the screening of 589 PCa patient DNA isolated from prostate tumor and stroma tissue. Primer sites are numbered
according to the XMRV VP62 sequence (Genbank EF185282
). (B) The reproducible detection limit was 10 copies of plasmid
DNA in human genomic DNA resulting in a 174 bp PCR product for XMRV. In the experiment shown even 1 copy could be
amplified. Mouse tail DNA (MT) was used as positive control yielding a 198 bp product amplified from endogenous genomic
MLV sequences. (C) Nested-PCR screen of the first 16 QQ patients (lane 1-16) with the In-For and Deletion-Rev primer pair
(upper panel) and In-For and In-Rev primer setup (lower panel); lane 17 = mouse tail DNA, lane 18 = water control outer PCR
mix, lane 19 = water control inner PCR mix, lane 20 = pXMRV, lane 21 = pDG75, marker = 100 bp marker.
gag start
24nt compared to MLV DG-75
XMRV typical deletion
200bp -
500bp -
(-) H
(+) MT
- 198bp
- 174bp
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
(+) (-) (-) (+) (+)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
(+) (-) (-) (+) (+)
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ible by electron microscopy of ultrathin sections (Fig. 4C).
This is, to our knowledge, the first visualisation of XMRV
particles using thin section electron microscopy of trans-
fected cells. The particles show the typical C-type budding
structures and a classical morphology of MLV.
Of the 146 sera samples tested, the corresponding nucleic
acids were available in 30 cases and were included in the
amplification reactions as a subset of the 589 DNA/RNA
samples. Of these 30 patients 2 were of the QQ genotype,
20 of QR and 8 were RR homozygous. In total, 146 sera
from prostate cancer patients and 5 healthy control indi-
viduals were tested negative for antibodies binding
recombinant XMRV gp70 and Gag proteins in ELISA,
although postive control immunized mouse sera reacted
strongly (Fig. 5A and 5B). One patient serum that reacted
strongly in ELISA against the recombinant pr65 protein
was subsequently tested by immunofluorescence assay
using HEK 293T cells expressing XMRV and cells express-
ing the gp70- or pr65 proteins alone. No XMRV specific
binding was seen, indicating a non-specific ELISA reac-
XMRV is a recently discovered gammaretrovirus, found
using RNA-based microarray techniques in tissue samples
from prostate cancer patients [10]. XMRV was detected
predominantly in patients who are homozygous for the
QQ allele at R462Q in the RNaseL gene, which results in
a reduced RNaseL activity and therefore in a diminished
IFN-based antiviral defense. Later studies showed XMRV
to be an infectious virus for human prostate-derived cells
Nested RT-PCR for sensitive and specific screening of patient tumor tissue RNAFigure 3
Nested RT-PCR for sensitive and specific screening of patient tumor tissue RNA. (A) RT-PCR for all 589 RNA
samples was carried out with In-For and In-Rev primers, followed by a quantitative real-time PCR using primers and probe as
indicated. Using the Q445T forward primer spanning the XMRV typical deletion ensured specific detection of XMRV
sequences. Primer sites are numbered according to the XMRV VP62 sequence. (B) Real-time PCR curves showing the mean of
triplicates. The sensitivity shown in this example was 10 copies. (C) Example of the first 16 QQ patients RNA screen including
GAPDH control reactions as the mean value of duplicates.
gag start
24nt compared to MLV DG-75
XMRV typical deletion
, 10
patient RNA
patient RNA
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Immunoflourescence microscopy and electron microscopy of transfected 293T cellsFigure 4
Immunoflourescence microscopy and electron microscopy of transfected 293T cells. Mice were immunized with
recombinant gp70 or pr65 protein fragments, and sera were used for immunoflourescence microsocopy of 293T cells trans-
fected two days earlier with the molecular XMRV clone VP62 or with gp70 and pr65 expression constructs. (A) A pool of sera
from gp70 immunized mice showed reactivity against whole XMRV or XMRV envelope protein expressing cells. Preimmune
sera showed no binding, and immune sera did not react with naive 293T cells. (B) A pool of immune sera from pr65 (Gag)
immunized mice showed similar reactivity to whole virus or XMRV Gag expressing cells. Gag protein was expressed at higher
levels in cells transfected with the CMV-driven codon-optimized gag construct than in those transfected with the VP62 molec-
ular clone of XMRV. (C) Thin section of 293T cells 2 days after transfection with the VP62 molecular clone of XMRV. Particles
budding at the cell membrane and a mature XMRV virion are shown. Scale bar = 100 nm.
Immune sera Preimmune sera Immune sera
XMRV (VP62 molecular clone)Mock
Immune sera
XMRV-env (A)
XMRV-gag (B)
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ELISA of PCa patient's sera using recombinant XMRV proteinsFigure 5
ELISA of PCa patient's sera using recombinant XMRV proteins. Mean ODs with two replicates of each patient sera
diluted 1:200 (dark bars) and of serially diluted sera from immunized mice (light bars). Cut-off was calculated as the mean of
four (gp70) and five (pr65) sera from healthy controls plus two times standard deviation. (A) ELISA of randomly chosen PCa
patient sera using the gp70 (Env) fragment (aa 1-245). (B) ELISA using a mixture of both pr65 (Gag) fragments. In general there
was a higher background against the pr65 proteins, seen also with the sera of healthy humans and the preimmune mouse sera.
Titration mouse sera
OD492/ 620
# 104
# 109
# 119
# 126
Titration mouse sera
OD492/ 620
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and to be sensitive to RNaseL-mediated inhibition of rep-
lication by IFN- [9]. The question of whether carcino-
genic transformation renders the prostate epithelia cells
susceptible to XMRV infection as a bystander virus or
whether XMRV is itself a prostate cancer causing agent has
not yet been addressed. It was very recently shown that
XMRV could be detected in 22Rv1 prostate carcinoma
cells originally derived from a primary prostatic carci-
noma [17]. This observation further highlights the need to
clarify the participation of XMRV in the etiology of human
prostate carcinomas.
As known for many years in other cancers, e.g. HPV in cer-
vical carcinoma or other cancers (reviewed by zur Hausen,
2009 [18]), infectious agents causing inflammatory (pre-
cancerous) lesions are suspected to be involved in the
pathogenesis of prostate carcinoma [19,20]. An increased
susceptibility of prostate epithelia cells to infection with
RNA-viruses as a result of the impaired function of RNa-
seL, resulting in proliferative inflammatory atrophy (PIA),
could be an intriguing scenario. These focal areas of epi-
thelial atrophy are presumed to be precursors of prostatic
intraepithelial neoplasia and prostate cancer [21]. A small
number of other studies during the last ten years attempt-
ing to demonstrate a role for viral infections in the devel-
opment of PCa have yielded rather inconclusive data [22-
If a real correlation between viral infection and prostate
cancer exists, new therapeutic or even prophylactic treat-
ments against the development of PCa could be devel-
oped by targeting, for example, viral antigens. In this
respect, a recent observation that radiolabelled therapeu-
tic monoclonal antibodies specific for HPV or HBV pro-
teins can inhibit subcutaneous tumor development in vivo
by cells expressing these antigens [27] is of particular
In the present study, we report the testing of 589 DNA and
RNA samples from sporadic prostate cancer patients for
the RNaseL genotype and for XMRV sequences. Although
76 of our samples (12.9%) displayed the "susceptibility"
QQ genotype, consistent with the frequency given in the
literature, no XMRV-specific sequences were detected in
either the RNA or the DNA from the prostate tumor sam-
ples. Given the ratio of approximately 40% positive cases
harboring the QQ genotype in the study population of
Urisman et al. [10], one would have expected at least 30
XMRV positive specimens amongst our 76 RNaseL QQ-
allele samples.
At least two other studies have looked for XMRV at the
nucleic acid level, albeit with a much smaller sample
groups. Fischer and coworkers [11] studied material from
105 German patients with sporadic prostate cancer and
found only one individual positive for XMRV by nested
RT-PCR, but this individual did not display the QQ RNa-
seL genotype. Another study carried out in Ireland investi-
gated 139 PCa patients. In 7 QQ patients and two
heterozygous RQ samples, no XMRV sequences were
detected [12].
It should be mentioned that this study cannot completely
rule out the possibility of an infection with another gam-
maretrovirus in these patients. The design of our PCR
approach was done in such a way that one primer pair (In-
For/In-Rev) binds to conserved regions, allowing amplifi-
cation of various MLV types including AKV MLV (J01998),
MLV DG-75 (AF221065), MoMuLV (NC_001501), MTCR
(NC_001702), MCF 1233 MLV (U13766), and Rauscher
MuLV (NC_001819). In this PCR setup a specific signal
was obtained with the mouse tail DNA as template, indi-
cating that endogenous MLVs were detected. As additional
controls we tested the cell lines 22Rv1 (XMRV positive
[17]) and DU145 (XMRV negative [9]). As expected,
22Rv1 was found to be strongly positive for RNA tran-
scripts and for provirus (with In-For/Deletion-Rev prim-
ers), while DU145 was negative in both PCR approaches
(data not shown).
We also tested 146 sera samples for XMRV antibodies and
found none of them to be positive in ELISA or Western
blot analyses. The recombinant XMRV proteins that were
used reacted positively with sera from immunized mice.
As XMRV is closely related to other murine leukemia
viruses and therefore immunogenic in mammalian hosts
[28], an infection which allows the virus to spread to the
stroma cells should induce a humoral immune response.
The analysis of sera from prostate cancer patients for anti-
bodies could therefore offer a rapid and valid screening
method to investigate the involvement of a virus. Obvi-
ously the determination of sensitivity and specificity of
these ELISA assays is to a certain degree limited, due to the
lack of a human anti-XMRV positive control antibody.
Nevertheless, the mouse sera were used to demonstrate
the suitability of the recombinant antigens as ELISA anti-
gens, even though the titration cannot be used to deter-
mine the amount of antibodies in the human sera
samples. The failure to detect XMRV proviruses or tran-
scripts in the 30 cases where DNA, RNA and sera samples
were all available, is consistent with the negative ELISA
results. It is theoretically possible that the tumor environ-
ment itself compromises the immune system and inhibits
the antibody response to the tumor-associated viral anti-
gens. This seems unlikely since animal studies have dem-
onstrated that tumor diseases do not dramatically
suppress systemic immunity [29]. There was a certain
degree of background reactivity to the recombinant Gag
proteins, as was also seen in an ELISA using a lysate of
ultracentrifuge-concentrated virus as antigen (data not
Retrovirology 2009, 6:92
Page 10 of 11
(page number not for citation purposes)
shown). Difficulties with background signals in testing
human sera for reactivity to MLV-derived antigens are well
known when using whole virion particles as antigen [30],
but this also occurs to a lesser extent when using recom-
binant proteins [28]. In general, there was a higher back-
ground reactivity against Gag in our 146 PCa and healthy
control sera tested; and one serum reacted strongly to the
pr65 protein. Upon further testing in Western blot and
immunfluorescence assay, this serum showed no specifi-
city for XMRV. It might be possible that antibodies
directed against the transmembrane protein p15E were
missed due to our choice of the gp70 and the pr65 antigen
as targets. In other human retrovirus infections, HIV and
HTLV antibodies against this region are detectable. There-
fore, it should also be mentioned that before the serolog-
ical assays using XMRV proteins were established all
serum samples were screened for cross-reactivity with
recombinant gp70, p15E and p27 [31,32] of another gam-
maretrovirus, the porcine endogenous retrovirus (PERV).
All sera were found to be negative for any of these targets
despite the obvious sequence homology of XMRV and
PERV in the ectodomain of p15E and certain conserved
regions in gp70 and p27. Regarding this point, it is also of
interest that Furuta et al. [33], recently reported the detec-
tion by Western blot of antibodies specific for the XMRV
Gag protein in blood bank samples from prostate cancer
patients and healthy donors, but no Env-specific antibod-
In summary, we demonstrate in a large cohort of more
than 500 German prostate cancer patients with a median
age of 63 years and various stages of disease no evidence
for infection by the recently discovered gammaretrovirus
XMRV. This result possibly suggests that the rather
restricted geographic incidence of XMRV infections, and
the epidemiology of XMRV in the United States should
therefore be studied closely. In addition, the oncogenic
potential of the virus should be thoroughly investigated to
exclude (or confirm) this viral infection as a possible trig-
ger for the development of prostate cancer.
XMRV: xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus;
PCa: prostate cancer; MLV: murine leukemia virus; pr: pre-
cursorprotein; gp: glycoprotein; SNP: single nucleotide
polymorphism; nt: nucleotide;
Competing interests
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Authors' contributions
OH carried out the molecular studies and drafted the
manuscript. HK carried out the patient's sampling and
preparation and drafted together with OH the manu-
script. PB, LN and NaB carried out the generation and
evaluation of antisera and corrected the manuscript. JD
carried out the additional screening against related retro-
viruses. KM, RK and NB conceived of the study, and par-
ticipated in its design and coordination. All authors read
and approved the final manuscript.
The real-time PCR setup for RNaseL genotyping was designed by Olfert
Landt/TIB MOLBIOL, Berlin. We are indebted to Sandra Kühn and Sandra
Klein for their excellent technical assistance. We thank R. Silverman and J.
Das Gupta for the XMRV full-length molecular clone and supporting lab
protocols. We also thank Lars Möller, ZBS4, for the electron microscopy
of XMRV and S. Norley for reading the manuscript and helpful discussions.
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    • "Detection of murine virus was conducted using the nested PCR protocol and primers previously used to detect Xenotropic Murine leukaemia virus-related virus (XMRV) contamination in prostate cancer samples [78]. "
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    Full-text · Article · Aug 2016
    • "The XMRV was controversially reported to be implicated in prostate cancer. There are research reports that argue for113114115116117 or against118119120121122 the over expression of XMRV in prostate cancer (Table 3d). A greater number of evidence in term of molecular techniques and samples used apparently indicated no significant relationship between XMRV and prostate cancer. "
    [Show description] [Hide description] DESCRIPTION: Abstract Human Endogenous Retroviruses (HERVs) are remnants of ancient retroviral infections with similarities to exogenous retroviruses and make up 8% of the entire human genome. HERVs are found to play a role in carcinogenesis. We sought to analyze 37HERVs in relation to 16 types of cancers using phylogenetic analysis. HERVs nucleotide sequences were aligned and corrected manually. A neighbor-joining method was used to create a phylogenetic tree using CLUSTAL X2 version algorithm. Two thousand (2000) replications were employed for bootstrap probabilities in creating the tree. The results obtained were systematically analyzed as they relate to different types of cancer. The phylogenetic analysis shows three main branches of HERVs. The first main branch was made up of HERV-H, HER-F, HERV-S71-related, ERV9, MSRV, HERV-K1.1, HERV-E, HERV-R, HERV-I, RTLVH, HERV-S and HRES-1. The second main branch was composed of HERV-T, HERV-P, HERV-FRD, HERV-KHTDV, and HERV-W. The third main branch contains majorly HERV-Ks family, HERV-L, HERV-PT47D and XMRV. The HERV-Ks family is the most homologous among all the HERVs and also ubiquitous in terms of cancer tissues expression. The youngest sub-class of the HERV-Ks - HERV-K 133, and HERV-KHML 1.1, together with the widely debated XMRV were nested in the same group and present about 60% similarity. HERV-F and HERV-H present 70% similarity. HERV-S-71-Related, ERV9 and MSRV showed 100% similarity. Testing for HERVs, which phylogenetically present high sequence homology with each other, may help further research in the use of HERVs as an agent of immunotherapeutic target in cancer management.
    Full-text · Research · Jul 2015 · Oncotarget
    • "The XMRV was controversially reported to be implicated in prostate cancer. There are research reports that argue for113114115116117 or against118119120121122 the over expression of XMRV in prostate cancer (Table 3d). A greater number of evidence in term of molecular techniques and samples used apparently indicated no significant relationship between XMRV and prostate cancer. "
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