Virological and parasitological characterization of Mini-LEWE minipigs using improved screening methods and an overview of data on various minipig breeds
Minipigs play an important role in biomedical research and have also been used as donor animals in xenotransplantation. To serve as a donor in xenotransplantation, the animals must be free of potential zoonotic viruses, bacteria and parasites. Porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs) are integrated in the genome of all pigs and cannot be eliminated as most of the other pig viruses can. PERV-A and PERV-B infect human cells in cell culture and are integrated in all pigs, whereas PERV-C infects only pig cells and it is found in many, but not all pigs. Minipigs are known for a high prevalence of recombinant PERV-A/C viruses able to infect human cells (Denner and Schuurman, Viruses, 2021;13:1869). Here, Mini-LEWE minipigs are screened for the first time for pig viruses including PERV. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from 10 animals were screened using PCR-based methods (PCR, RT-PCR, and real-time PCR). In comparison with our previous screening assays, numerous improvements were introduced, e.g., the usage of gene blocks as a PCR standard and foreign RNA to control reverse transcription in RT-PCR. Using these improved detection methods, Mini-LEWE pigs were found to be negative for porcine cytomegalovirus (PCMV), porcine lymphotropic herpesviruses (PLHV-1, -2 and -3), porcine circoviruses (PCV1, 2, 3 and 4), porcine parvovirus (PPV) and hepatitis E virus (HEV). All animals carried PERV-A, PERV-B and PERV-C in their genome. PERV-A/C was not found. In contrast to all other minipig breeds (Göttingen minipigs, Aachen minipigs, Yucatan micropig, Massachusetts General Hospital miniature pigs), Mini-LEWE minipigs have less viruses and no PERV-A/C. Parasitological screening showed that none of the Mini-LEWE minipigs harbored ecto- and gastrointestinal parasites, but at least one animal tested positive for anti-Toxoplasma gondii antibodies.