Two forms of human polyomavirus JC (JCV) genome are known based upon the structure of the transcriptional control region (TCR) of the virus: the archetypal form, which is commonly detected in urine, and the rearranged form, which was first detected in brain tissue from progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) patients. The latter actually includes a group of TCR variants that, relative to the former, are characterized by various deletions and/or duplications. The aim of this study was to establish whether or not a correlation exists among the TCR type, the spreading of the virus within the host and its ability to cause PML. JCV TCR sequences from peripheral blood leukocytes (PBL) and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) obtained from various groups of patients were compared. JCV with archetypal TCR was detected in CSF and PBL specimens from patients without neurological disorders or who eventually received a diagnosis of a non-PML neurological disorder. Rearranged TCR sequences were detected in all the CSF and PBL specimens from PML patients. The high similarity observed between the TCR structure detected in PBL and CSF specimens from individual patients could strengthen the hypothesis that PBL has a role in spreading JCV to the brain. Moreover, heterogeneous TCR patterns have been shown in individual PBL specimens from PML patients. This supports the hypothesis that, in PBL, JCV may replicate and undergo rearrangements of the TCR. The detection of JCV DNA by PCR in CSF independently from PML, although rare, could suggest that this assay is not sufficient for a virological diagnosis of PML. Further studies are required to assess the usefulness of quantitative assays or TCR typing in combination with PCR for diagnostic purposes.


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