Inactivation of porcine endogenous retrovirus in pigs using CRISPR-Cas9

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Science  22 Sep 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6357, pp. 1303-1307
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan4187

Taking the PERVs out of pigs

With the severe shortage of organs needed for transplants, xenotransplantation (transplantation of nonhuman organs to humans) offers an alternative source. Some pig organs have similar size and function to those of humans. The challenge is that the pig genome harbors porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs) that can potentially pass to humans with possibly damaging consequences. Niu et al. generated pigs in which all copies of PERVs were inactivated by CRISPR-Cas9 genome engineering (see the Perspective by Denner). Not only does this work provide insights into PERV activity, but it also opens the door to a safer source of organs and tissues for pig-to-human xenotransplantation.

Science, this issue p. 1303; see also p. 1238


Xenotransplantation is a promising strategy to alleviate the shortage of organs for human transplantation. In addition to the concerns about pig-to-human immunological compatibility, the risk of cross-species transmission of porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs) has impeded the clinical application of this approach. We previously demonstrated the feasibility of inactivating PERV activity in an immortalized pig cell line. We now confirm that PERVs infect human cells, and we observe the horizontal transfer of PERVs among human cells. Using CRISPR-Cas9, we inactivated all of the PERVs in a porcine primary cell line and generated PERV-inactivated pigs via somatic cell nuclear transfer. Our study highlights the value of PERV inactivation to prevent cross-species viral transmission and demonstrates the successful production of PERV-inactivated animals to address the safety concern in clinical xenotransplantation.

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