Persistence of mouse mammary tumour virus (MMTV) components in the digestive tract of suckling mice was investigated by immunoperoxidase staining of the main viral antigens and micro-immunoenzyme assays of gp52 and p28; these latter assays were also performed after ingestion of milk enriched in viral antigens using CrO as a marker for the alimentary bolus migration. When compared to the ingested antigens, the amounts of gp52 and p28 decreased during transit, p28 being more rapidly digested than gp52. The antigens were, however, destroyed to a much larger extent in the gut of the adult than in that of the newborn mouse. A fraction of the marker remained for a long time in the stomach; a prolonged retention was also observed with gp52 and especially with p28. Significant amounts of viral antigens were detected in the intestinal walls: both p28 and gp52 were found in the duodenum and small intestine. Moreover, the four viral antigens gp52, gp36, p28 and p8 were clearly observed in very large supranuclear vacuoles inside the epithelial cells of the distal part of the gut. Total particles can reach the intestine; the viral material could then be either destroyed or taken up in the epithelial cells by endocytosis, so that the intestinal epithelium might serve as a portal of entry for MMTV in the suckling mouse.

Keyword(s): antigens , intestine , MMTV and virus entry

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