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Development of a PCR Assay to detect Papillomavirus Infection in the Snow Leopard

Katherine Mitsouras12, Erica A Faulhaber3, Gordon Hui3, Janis O Joslin3, Curtis Eng4, Margaret C Barr3 and Kristopher JL Irizarry23*

Author Affiliations

1 College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific, Western University of Health, Sciences, Pomona, CA, USA

2 The Applied Genomics Center, Graduate College of Biomedical Sciences, Western University of Health Sciences, Pomona, CA, USA

3 College of Veterinary Medicine, Western University of Health Sciences, Pomona, CA, USA

4 Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, 5333 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles, CA, USA

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BMC Veterinary Research 2011, 7:38  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-7-38

Published: 18 July 2011



Papillomaviruses (PVs) are a group of small, non-encapsulated, species-specific DNA viruses that have been detected in a variety of mammalian and avian species including humans, canines and felines. PVs cause lesions in the skin and mucous membranes of the host and after persistent infection, a subset of PVs can cause tumors such as cervical malignancies and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma in humans. PVs from several species have been isolated and their genomes have been sequenced, thereby increasing our understanding of the mechanism of viral oncogenesis and allowing for the development of molecular assays for the detection of PV infection. In humans, molecular testing for PV DNA is used to identify patients with persistent infections at risk for developing cervical cancer. In felids, PVs have been isolated and sequenced from oral papillomatous lesions of several wild species including bobcats, Asian lions and snow leopards. Since a number of wild felids are endangered, PV associated disease is a concern and there is a need for molecular tools that can be used to further study papillomavirus in these species.


We used the sequence of the snow leopard papillomavirus UuPV1 to develop a PCR strategy to amplify viral DNA from samples obtained from captive animals. We designed primer pairs that flank the E6 and E7 viral oncogenes and amplify two DNA fragments encompassing these genes. We detected viral DNA for E6 and E7 in genomic DNA isolated from saliva, but not in paired blood samples from snow leopards. We verified the identity of these PCR products by restriction digest and DNA sequencing. The sequences of the PCR products were 100% identical to the published UuPV1 genome sequence.


We developed a PCR assay to detect papillomavirus in snow leopards and amplified viral DNA encompassing the E6 and E7 oncogenes specifically in the saliva of animals. This assay could be utilized for the molecular investigation of papillomavirus in snow leopards using saliva, thereby allowing the detection of the virus in the anatomical site where oral papillomatous lesions develop during later stages of infection and disease development.