Raccoon polyomavirus (RacPyV) is associated with 100% of neuroglial tumors in free-ranging raccoons. Other tumor-associated polyomaviruses (PyVs), including simian virus 40 (SV40), murine PyV, and Merkel cell PyV, are found integrated in the host genome in neoplastic cells, where they constitutively express splice variants of the tumor antigen (TAg) gene. We have previously reported that RacPyV exists only as an episome (nonintegrated) in neuroglial tumors. Here, we have investigated TAg transcription in primary tumor tissue by transcriptome analysis, and we identified the alternatively spliced TAg transcripts for RacPyV. We also determined that TAg was highly transcribed relative to host cellular genes. We further colocalized TAg DNA and mRNA by in situ hybridization and found that the majority of tumor cells showed positive staining. Lastly, we examined the stability of the viral genome and TAg transcription by quantitative reverse transcriptase PCR in cultured tumor cells in vitro and in a mouse xenograft model. When tumor cells were cultured in vitro, TAg transcription increased nearly 2 log-fold over that of parental tumor tissue by passage 17. Both episomal viral genome and TAg transcription were faithfully maintained in culture and in tumors arising from xenotransplantation of cultured cells in mice. This study represents a minimal criterion for RacPyV's association with neuroglial tumors and a novel mechanism of stability for a polyomavirus in cancer.
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