Unexpected low expression of porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs) in porcine expanded potential stem cells (EPSCs)
Expanded potential stem cells (EPSCs) have been recently derived from porcine preimplantation embryos (Gao et al., 2019). These cells were shown to express key pluripotency genes, to be genetically stable and differentiate to derivatives of the three germ layers and additionally to trophoblast. Their molecular features and expanded potency to contribute to all embryonic and extra-embryonic cell lineages are generally not seen in the embryo-derived or induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Therefore porcine EPSCs represent a unique state of cellular potency. In the past it had been shown that human and murine embryonic stem cells (ESCs) show an increased expression of murine and human endogenous retroviruses, respectively, and retroviral expression patterns were used as markers of ESC pluripotency. An increased expression of porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs) was also detected in porcine iPSCs. Here we investigated 24 passages of five different clones of porcine EPSCs derived from German landrace pigs and show that they harbour PERV-A, PERV-B and PERV-C, but their expression was very low and did not change during cultivation. No recombinant PERV-A/Cs were found in these cells. The low expression despite the presence of spliced mRNA and negative infection assay and electron microscopy results indicate that no PERV particles were released. Therefore, the absence of PERV expression seems to be a unique feature of porcine EPSCs. Most importantly, the copy number of PERV proviruses was much lower in EPSCs than in young and older pigs (29.1 copies compared with 35.8), indicating an increase in copy number during life time.