BACKGROUND: DNA sequences and immunoreactivity associated with Simian virus 40 transforming factors, large T and small t antigens (SV40LTAg), suggestive of an aetiopathogenetic link have been identified in fresh frozen tissue of a high proportion of recent cases of pleural mesotheliomas from the United States, Italy and Germany. SV40 is not normally infective in man though it can transform human cells in tissue culture. A large cohort of people in the western world was accidentally parenterally inoculated with live SV40 through contaminated polio vaccines given between 1959 and 1961, and this might be a factor in the current continuing rise in the incidence of mesothelioma in the United States, Britain and Europe. The present study investigated the presence of SV40LTAg DNA in recently diagnosed cases of mesothelioma in Britain and the feasibility of detecting the SV40 DNA in archival tissue for retrospective analysis of cases in the peri-vaccination period. METHODS: DNA was extracted from fresh frozen and/or rehydrated formalin fixed, paraffin embedded tissue sections from nine recently diagnosed cases of mesothelioma, nine cases of pulmonary adenocarcinoma, and three reactive pleurae, and amplified by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using the primer pairs used previously on fresh frozen tissues-namely, the SV primer set directed at the LTAg gene sequence unique to SV40 and the PYV primer set directed at a sequence shared by SV40 and papovavirus strains BK and JC, respectively. RESULTS: PCR positivity with the SV primer set was restricted to four of the nine cases of mesothelioma. In contrast, six of the nine mesotheliomas, two of the nine adenocarcinomas, and one of the three reactive pleurae showed positivity with the PYV primers. The fresh frozen and corresponding formalin fixed, paraffin embedded tissue results concorded well with each other. CONCLUSIONS: Our data provide evidence for the association of SV40LTAg primer specific DNA with human pulmonary mesothelioma in the British population.
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