Reasons for performing study: The aetiology of genital squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) in horses remains unknown, but the similarity to the disease in man, for which papillomavirus infection has been shown to be a causal factor, requires to be investigated in horses.
Hypothesis: One or more novel papillomaviruses cause equine genital SCC and its associated premalignant lesions.
Methods: DNA was extracted from samples of equine genital SCC and performed rolling circle amplification, in order to identify closed circular DNA viral genomes within the samples. The amplified DNA was subcloned and sequenced and the DNA sequence compared to that of other papillomavirus genomes. Using PCR primers developed from these genomic DNA sequences, studies were then carried out in order to identify the frequency at which the viral DNA could be identified in equine genital cancer samples from horses in both the UK, Australia and Austria. Finally, in situ hybridisation using specific probes developed from this DNA sequence were used to confirm the presence of the viral RNA sequences in the neoplastic cells in these lesions.
Results: The full length genome of a novel papillomavirus species was characterised from the equine genital SCC tissue and termed Equus caballus papillomavirus-2 (EcPV-2). Viral DNA and RNA was identified in the genital tumour samples, but not in the adjacent histologically normal tissue. EcPV-2 DNA could not be identified in equine ocular or nasal carcinomas or within the scrotal skin or in most smegma samples obtained from tumour-free horses. Sequencing of amplicons, generated from the archived equine genital tumours, identified variations within E1 and E6 on DNA and predicted protein level.
Conclusions: A novel papillomavirus, EcPV-2, is likely to play a causal role in the pathogenesis of equine genital epithelial tumours.
Potential relevance: Identification of a papillomavirus causal for genital carcinomas in horses may lead to development of a vaccine that could be used to prevent this serious disease in horses. This would be analogous to man, where vaccination against oncogenic papillomavirus species is currently being used to help prevent cervical cancer.