Reasons for performing study: Sarcoids are nonmetastasising, yet locally aggressive skin tumours that constitute the most frequent neoplasm in equids. Infection by bovine papillomaviruses types 1 and 2 (BPV-1, BPV-2) has been recognised as major causative factor in sarcoid pathogenesis, but a possible correlation of intralesional virus load with disease severity has not been established thus far.
Hypothesis: Given the pathogenic role of BPV-1 and BPV-2 in sarcoid disease, we suggest that intralesional viral DNA concentration may reflect the degree of affection.
Methods: Severity of disease was addressed by recording the tumour growth kinetics, lesion number and tumour type for 37 sarcoid-bearing horses and one donkey. Viral load was estimated via quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) of the E2, E5, L1 and L2 genes from the BPV-1/-2 genome for one randomly selected lesion per horse and correlated with disease severity.
Results: Quantitative PCR against E2 identified viral DNA concentrations ranging from 0–556 copies/tumour cell. Of 16 horses affected by quiescent, slowly growing single tumours or multiple mild-type lesions, 15 showed a viral load up to 1.4 copies per cell. In stark contrast, all equids (22/22) bearing rapidly growing and/or multiple aggressive sarcoids had a viral load between 3 and 569 copies per cell. Consistent results were obtained with qPCR against E5, L1 and L2.
Conclusions: While tumours of the same clinical type carried variable virus load, confirming that viral titre does not determine clinical appearance, we identified a highly significant correlation between intralesional viral load and disease severity.
Potential relevance: The rapid determination of BPV viral load will give a reliable marker for disease severity and may also be considered when establishing a therapeutic strategy.