Research Article: Nucleic Acid, Antibody, and Virus Culture Methods to Detect Xenotropic MLV-Related Virus in Human Blood Samples

Date Published: November 17, 2011

Publisher: Hindawi Publishing Corporation

Author(s): M. F. Kearney, K. Lee, R. K. Bagni, A. Wiegand, J. Spindler, F. Maldarelli, P. A. Pinto, W. M. Linehan, C. D. Vocke, K. A. Delviks-Frankenberry, R. W. deVere White, G. Q. Del Prete, J. W. Mellors, J. D. Lifson, V. N. KewalRamani, V. K. Pathak, J. M. Coffin, S. F. J. Le Grice.


The MLV-related retrovirus, XMRV, was recently identified and reported to be associated with both prostate cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome. At the National Cancer Institute-Frederick, MD (NCI-Frederick), we developed highly sensitive methods to detect XMRV nucleic acids, antibodies, and replication competent virus. Analysis of XMRV-spiked samples and/or specimens from two pigtail macaques experimentally inoculated with 22Rv1 cell-derived XMRV confirmed the ability of the assays used to detect XMRV RNA and DNA, and culture isolatable virus when present, along with XMRV reactive antibody responses. Using these assays, we did not detect evidence of XMRV in blood samples (N = 134) or prostate specimens (N = 19) from two independent cohorts of patients with prostate cancer. Previous studies detected XMRV in prostate tissues. In the present study, we primarily investigated the levels of XMRV in blood plasma samples collected from patients with prostate cancer. These results demonstrate that while XMRV-related assays developed at the NCI-Frederick can readily measure XMRV nucleic acids, antibodies, and replication competent virus, no evidence of XMRV was found in the blood of patients with prostate cancer.

Partial Text

Xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) is a recently discovered gammaretrovirus reportedly associated with prostate cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) [1, 2]. The discovery of XMRV arose from studies investigating a potential viral cause for diseases in patients with an RNAseL gene variant. This genotype, which is observed in a varying subset of patients in cohorts with prostate cancer [1, 3–8], has been associated with impairment of innate immune responses to viral infections [5]. Seeking an etiologically significant viral infection associated with impaired RNAse L-dependent responses, Urisman et al. first identified XMRV in 2006 in a cohort of prostate cancer patients [2]. The association of XMRV with prostate cancer, but not its association with the RNAseL variant, was corroborated by Schlaberg et al. in 2009 [9]. The prostate cancer studies were followed by a report from Lombardi et al. presenting evidence for XMRV infection in 67% of individuals with severe CFS, compared to 3.7% of healthy individuals [1]. These high reported frequencies of XMRV infection and putative linkage to a debilitating illness prompted concerns about the possibility of a new, widespread retroviral epidemic and stimulated additional research towards determining the prevalence of XMRV infection in different populations worldwide.

After publication of the XMRV study by Lombardi et al. in October 2009 suggesting a possible disease association with CFS and a surprisingly high apparent seroprevalence for XMRV even among healthy control subjects, researchers at the NCI-Frederick set out to develop rigorous methods to evaluate the prevalence of XMRV infection. Using control samples, including spiked specimens where appropriate, we developed assays to measure plasma XMRV RNA viremia, cell-associated XMRV DNA levels, and antibodies to XMRV CA and TM. Because Lombardi et al. reported the presence of culture rescuable replication-competent virus from the blood of study subjects using coculture with a human cell line (LNCap), we created DERSE cells, derivatives of the same LNCap cells with a fluorescent reporter to detect XMRV replication. These cells broadly and sensitively detect the replication of different MLV-related gammaretroviruses that exhibit a tropism for human prostate cancer cells. In the absence of patient-derived definitive positive and negative control specimens, we applied our different assay methods to samples obtained from two pigtail macaques prior to and after experimental XMRV inoculation. XMRV plasma viremia was detectable in both inoculated macaques for 2-3 weeks after inoculation but then declined to undetectable levels (Del Prete et al., in preparation). However, XMRV DNA in PBMCs and serum antibodies remained at readily measurable levels for the duration of study follow-up in both animals (Del Prete et al., in preparation). Evaluation of samples from the inoculated macaques demonstrated the ability of our methods to reliably detect evidence of XMRV infection in blood samples and showed that XMRV provirus and antibodies persist even when viremia is not detectable.