Dr. Megan Spurgeon (left) and Dr. Paul Lambert (right)
McArdle researchers have developed a model of papillomavirus sexual transmission using the recently discovered murine (mouse) papillomavirus. This new model finally allows research on areas of papillomavirus infection and sexual transmission that have previously not been possible in a small animal model. The paper has recently been published in the journal eLife by Dr. Megan Spurgeon and Dr. Paul Lambert.
The new model developed by Spurgeon and Lambert will provide insight into transmission of human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. Infection with oncogenic high-risk HPV strains alone contribute to about five percent of all cancers worldwide.
“We have never been able to study this aspect of papillomavirus infection in a small animal model before,” said lead author Dr. Megan Spurgeon.
Papillomaviruses are very species-specific. It wasn’t until the recent discovery of mouse papillomavirus that the virus could be studied in a small animal model.
Spurgeon and Lambert demonstrated natural sexual transmission of the virus for the first time in laboratory mice, which opens several avenues for research into the molecular basis of sexual transmission and new prevention methods. It had only ever been done in a primate model, which is difficult to maintain and costly.
Furthermore, Spurgeon and Lambert found that male mice also harbored the infection. A small animal model for papillomavirus infection in male reproductive tissues does not exist. HPVs can also contribute to penile cancers, which can now be studied and explored with this model.
“This is a groundbreaking discovery because we can now study drugs to prevent transmission, genes that contribute to transmission, sexual transmission dynamics, male reproductive infections, coinfections, the influence of the cervical microbiome on transmission, and more,” said Spurgeon.
This new model of natural transmission stemmed from a previous study by Spurgeon, Lambert and colleagues that established a model of papillomavirus-associated cervicovaginal cancers in mice infected by the same virus. Dr. Spurgeon then suggested adapting the model to test sexual transmission.
Spurgeon hopes this model serves to increase molecular understanding of natural HPV infections, as well as their sexual transmission and persistence, and ultimately helps identify new ways to prevent and treat HPV infections.
Female (left panels) and male (right panels) reproductive organs showing positive staining for MmuPV1 E4 transcript (brown areas) in mice that were infected via sexual transmission. MMuPV1 is mouse papillomavirus.
By Dominique Barthel (firstname.lastname@example.org)