Bovine leukemia virus

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Bovine leukemia virus
Virus classification Edit this classification
(unranked): Virus
Realm: Riboviria
Kingdom: Pararnavirae
Phylum: Artverviricota
Class: Revtraviricetes
Order: Ortervirales
Family: Retroviridae
Genus: Deltaretrovirus
Bovine leukemia virus
  • Bovine leukosis virus
  • Bovine type C oncovirus

Bovine leukemia virus (BLV) is a retrovirus which causes enzootic bovine leukosis in cattle. It is closely related to the human T‑lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-I). BLV may integrate into the genomic DNA of B‑lymphocytes as a DNA intermediate (the provirus), or exist as unintegrated circular or linear forms.[2] Besides structural and enzymatic genes required for virion production, BLV expresses the Tax protein and microRNAs involved in cell proliferation and oncogenesis .[3][4][5] In cattle, most infected animals are asymptomatic; leukemia is rare (about 5% of infected animals), but lymphoproliferation is more frequent (30%).


BLV is vectored by insects Anopheles albimanus, Anopheles freeborni, Anopheles quadrimaculatus, Anopheles stephensi, Stomoxys calcitrans, and various Tabanidae including Tabanus atratus and Tabanus fuscicostatus and by the tick Boophilus microplus.[6]

Disease in cattle[edit]


Many potential routes of BLV transmission exist. Transmission through procedures that transmit blood between animals such as gouge dehorning, vaccination and ear tagging with instruments or needles that are not changed or disinfected between animals is a significant means of BLV spread. Rectal palpation with common sleeves poses a risk that is increased by inexperience and increased frequency of palpation. Transmission via colostrum, milk, and in utero exposure is generally considered to account for a relatively small proportion of infections.[7] Embryo transfer and artificial insemination also account for a small number of new infections if common equipment and/or palpation sleeves are used. While transmission has been documented via blood feeding insects, the significance of this risk is unclear. Transmission relies primarily on the transfer of infected lymphocytes from one animal to the next, and BLV positive animals with lymphocytosis are more likely to provide a source for infection. Virus particles are difficult to detect and not used for transmission of infection.[citation needed]

Clinical signs[edit]

Conjunctival prolapse is a sign of bovine leukosis

In general, BLV causes only a benign mononucleosis-like disease in cattle. Only some animals later develop a B-cell leukemia called enzootic bovine leukosis.[8] Under natural conditions the disease is transmitted mainly by milk to the calf.[citation needed]

The variety of organs where white blood cells occur explains the many symptoms: enlargement of superficial lymph nodes, a digestive form, a cardiac form, a nervous form, a respiratory form, and others.[9] Lymph node enlargement is often an early clinical sign.[10] An unexpected clinical finding is protrusion of the conjunctival membrane, due to enlargement of retro-ocular lymph nodes.[10]


Diagnosis relies on agar gel immunodiffusion, ELISA (enzyme linked immunosorbent assay) and PCR (polymerase chain reaction). Post-mortem findings are characteristic and include widespread white tumours in most organs.[10]

Treatment and control[edit]

No treatment is available for the disease.[10] Testing and removing positive animals from the herd is one method of control. In herds where the disease is widespread, it is important to limit spread by avoiding contact with blood between animals.[10]

Epidemiology and eradication efforts[edit]

In Europe attempts were made to eradicate the virus by culling infected animals. The first country considered to be free of infection was Denmark. Soon the United Kingdom followed. Like the North American states, those of the Eastern bloc in Europe did not try to get rid of the virus. But the Eastern Europe states started to become leukosis-free after the political changes at the end of the last century. A quote from a USDA fact sheet, "The high individual animal prevalence of BLV reported in the Dairy 1996 study suggests that testing and culling seropositive animals may not be a cost effective method to control the disease. Instead, preventing disease transmission by implementing preventive practices would likely be more cost-effective.[11]

High prevalence of virus was found from testing by USDA. "As part of the 2007 dairy study, bulk tank milk was collected from 534 operations with 30 or more dairy cows and tested with an Enzyme Linked-Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) for the presence of antibodies against BLV. Results showed that 83.9 percent of U.S. dairy operations were positive for BLV (table 1).[11] BLV infection can be detected by ELISA or PCR.[11]


A safe and effective vaccine against BLV has been developed.[12][13][14] The approach is based of a provirus with deletions or mutations in genes required for efficient replication (R3,G4, microRNAs, envelope). The attenuated vaccine effectively protects from BLV infection in endemic regions characterized by a high BLV prevalence. Compared to wild-type infection, the humoral response against BLV antigens is only slightly reduced in vaccinated animals. The proviral loads of the attenuated vaccine remain most frequently undetectable. The attenuated strain is not transmitted from mother to offspring, supporting the safety of the vaccine.[12][13][14] This vaccine thus induces a persistent anti-BLV immune response through maintaining a low level of infectivity, while preventing the risk of infection by the wild-type virus.

Potential infection in humans[edit]

Soon after BLV was discovered in the 1970s, ten studies were done looking for antibodies to BLV in humans. However, no antibodies were found and so researchers concluded that BLV was not a risk to human health.[15] However, more sensitive techniques for detecting antibodies were developed, and in 2003 a test of more than 200 people using these new tests found that more than a third carried antibodies reactive to BLV, and the question began to be researched again.[16]

Several studies have been carried out to determine whether BLV causes disease in humans, testing mostly farm workers who drink raw milk from infected cows.[9] Some long term studies may be necessary, as there appears to be a correlation in instances of cancer among butchers and slaughterhouse workers.[17] In 2014, researchers discovered the presence of BLV positive cells in the human breast tissue in a sample of US women,[18] and a case-control study published in 2015 suggested that exposure to BLV is associated with breast cancer, also in US women.[19] A later study of Australian women detected retrotranscribed BLV DNA in breast tissue of 40/50(80%) of women with breast cancer versus 19/46(41%) of women with no history of breast cancer, indicating an age-adjusted odds ratio and confidence interval of 4.72(1.71-13.05). These results corroborate the findings of the previous study of US women with an even higher odds ratio for the Australian population.[20] A case-control study of Texas women established an association between BLV presence in breast tissue and breast cancer status with an odds ratio OR 5.1.[21]

In 2019, a review of possible role of Bovine Leukemia Virus in breast cancer is proposed by Gertrude C Buehring.[22]

Another case-control study conducted on Chinese patients did not find any association between BLV and breast cancer. However this study did not look at tissue samples from breast cancer, only blood work.[23] A subsequent evaluation of the Chinese study pointed out weaknesses in methodology used, e.g. a veterinary test kit designed and calibrated for cattle inappropriately used to test for human antibodies, despite warnings against this in kit instructions.[24] An exhaustive analysis of 51 whole genomes of breast cancers by next generation sequencing (NGS) did not show any trace of BLV DNA and thus excludes clonal insertion (integration into human genomic DNA) of BLV into the DNA of breast cancer cells.[25] However, all of the DNA sequences available to examine were derived from metastatic sites, according to the statement by the provider (US National Cancer Institute) written above the column of the sequences. In cattle with advanced stages of BLV infection, most of the BLV genome is deleted and often only the promoter region and cancer causing gene remain []. If this situation also exists in humans infected with BLV, one would not expect to find BLV in whole genomes of metastatic tumors, which are advanced stages of human breast cancer. Also unintegrated BLV DNA would not be detected by NGS. More research needs to be done to determine if there are differences in BLV presence in metastatic versus primary breast cancer cells from the same human tissue donor.[citation needed]

Another study of 95 women in California found that more than a third had evidence of BLV DNA in their blood cells, and a third had antibodies to BLV, but that these two BLV markers were not correlated with each other in individual donors.[26]

Infection in other species[edit]

There are other mammal hosts including Bubalus bubalis, Mus musculus, Oryctolagus cuniculus and Ovis aries.[6] Natural infection of animals other than cattle and buffalo are rare, although many animals are susceptible to artificial infection. After artificial infection of sheep most animals succumb to leukemia. Rabbits get a fatal AIDS-like disease similar to Pasteurella, different from the benign human snuffles. It is not known whether this naturally occurring rabbit disease is linked to BLV infection. "Although several species can be infected by inoculation of the virus, natural infection occurs only in cattle (Bos taurus and Bos indicus), water buffaloes, and capybaras. Sheep are very susceptible to experimental inoculation and develop tumours more often and at a younger age than cattle. A persistent antibody response can also be detected after experimental infection in deer, rabbits, rats, guinea-pigs, cats, dogs, sheep, rhesus monkeys, chimpanzees, antelopes, pigs, goats and buffaloes."[27]

Research directions[edit]

Because of the close relationship between BLV and HTLV-I, the research on BLV is important. One can use the experience with BLV for understanding HTLV-I induced diseases like ATL (adult T-cell leukemia) and HAM/TSP (HTLV-1-associated myelopathy/Tropical spastic paraparesis)-like neurological disorders. A number of case-control studies have been conducted, but research into BLV-related diseases has not been as extensive as that conducted into other viral diseases.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "ICTV Taxonomy history: Bovine leukemia virus". International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV). Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  2. ^ Reyes RA, Cockerell GL (August 1996). "Unintegrated bovine leukemia virus DNA: association with viral expression and disease". Journal of Virology. 70 (8): 4961–5. doi:10.1128/JVI.70.8.4961-4965.1996. PMC 190448. PMID 8764001.
  3. ^ Willems, L.; Heremans, H.; Chen, G.; Portetelle, D.; Billiau, A.; Burny, A.; Kettmann, R. (May 1990). "Cooperation between bovine leukaemia virus transactivator protein and Ha-ras oncogene product in cellular transformation". The EMBO Journal. 9 (5): 1577–1581. doi:10.1002/j.1460-2075.1990.tb08277.x. PMC 551852. PMID 2158445.
  4. ^ Gillet, Nicolas A.; Hamaidia, Malik; de Brogniez, Alix; Gutiérrez, Gerónimo; Renotte, Nathalie; Reichert, Michal; Trono, Karina; Willems, Luc (2016-04-28). Sullivan, Christopher S (ed.). "Bovine Leukemia Virus Small Noncoding RNAs Are Functional Elements That Regulate Replication and Contribute to Oncogenesis In Vivo". PLOS Pathogens. 12 (4): e1005588. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1005588. ISSN 1553-7374. PMC 4849745. PMID 27123579.
  5. ^ Safari, Roghaiyeh; Jacques, Jean-Rock; Brostaux, Yves; Willems, Luc (2020-05-14). Cullen, Bryan R. (ed.). "Ablation of non-coding RNAs affects bovine leukemia virus B lymphocyte proliferation and abrogates oncogenesis". PLOS Pathogens. 16 (5): e1008502. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1008502. ISSN 1553-7374. PMC 7252678. PMID 32407379.
  6. ^ a b "bovine leukemia virus". Invasive Species Compendium (ISC). CABI (Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International). 2019-11-21. Retrieved 2022-01-22.
  7. ^ Meas S, Usui T, Ohashi K, Sugimoto C, Onuma M (January 2002). "Vertical transmission of bovine leukemia virus and bovine immunodeficiency virus in dairy cattle herds". Veterinary Microbiology. 84 (3): 275–82. doi:10.1016/s0378-1135(01)00458-8. PMID 11731179.
  8. ^ Mahy BW (2009). "Bovine leukemia virus". The dictionary of virology (4th ed.). Amsterdam: Elsevier/Academic Press. pp. 61–62. ISBN 9780080920368.
  9. ^ Blood DC, Henderson JA, Radostits OM (1979). Veterinary Medicine (5th ed.). London: Baillière Tindall. pp. 611 (Leucosis in cattle and other species). ISBN 978-0-7020-0718-7.
  10. ^ a b c d e Bovine Leukaemia Virus reviewed and published by WikiVet, accessed 10 October 2011.
  11. ^ a b c "Bovine Leukosis Virus on U.S. Dairy Operations, 2007" (PDF). NAHMS Dairy 2007. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2021-03-22.
  12. ^ a b Gutiérrez G, Rodríguez SM, de Brogniez A, Gillet N, Golime R, Burny A, et al. (June 2014). "Vaccination against δ-retroviruses: the bovine leukemia virus paradigm". Viruses. 6 (6): 2416–27. doi:10.3390/v6062416. PMC 4074934. PMID 24956179.
  13. ^ a b Barez PY, de Brogniez A, Carpentier A, Gazon H, Gillet N, Gutiérrez G, et al. (November 2015). "Recent Advances in BLV Research". Viruses. 7 (11): 6080–8. doi:10.3390/v7112929. PMC 4664998. PMID 26610551.
  14. ^ a b Suárez Archilla, Guillermo; Gutiérrez, Gerónimo; Camussone, Cecilia; Calvinho, Luis; Abdala, Alejandro; Alvarez, Irene; Petersen, Marcos; Franco, Lautaro; Destefano, Gabriel; Monti, Gustavo; Jacques, Jean-Rock; Joris, Thomas; Willems, Luc; Trono, Karina (2022-08-10). "A safe and effective vaccine against bovine leukemia virus". Frontiers in Immunology. 13: 980514. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2022.980514. ISSN 1664-3224. PMC 9399851. PMID 36032174.
  15. ^ Buehring GC, Shen HM, Jensen HM, Choi KY, Sun D, Nuovo G (May 2014). "Bovine leukemia virus DNA in human breast tissue". Emerging Infectious Diseases. 20 (5): 772–82. doi:10.3201/eid2005.131298. PMC 4012802. PMID 24750974. Concerns that this virus might infect humans through exposure to food products from subclinically infected animals prompted 10 studies that used what were then (1975–1979) state-of-the-art immunologic methods to test serum samples from a collective total of 1,761 humans, including cancer patients, farm workers, and veterinarians (5). In these studies no antibodies against BLV were detected, prompting Burridge to conclude in his review article, "There is no epidemiological or serological evidence from human studies to indicate that BLV can infect man" (5). The advent of immunoblotting, ≈100 times more sensitive than techniques of the 1970s (6), enabled the detection of antibodies reactive with recombinant purified BLV p24 capsid protein in serum samples from 39% of 257 self-selected human volunteers (7).
  16. ^ Buehring GC, Philpott SM, Choi KY (December 2003). "Humans have antibodies reactive with Bovine leukemia virus". AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses. 19 (12): 1105–13. doi:10.1089/088922203771881202. PMID 14709247.
  17. ^ Johnson ES (2005). "Assessing the role of transmissible agents in human disease by studying meat workers". Cellscience Reviews. 2 (1). ISSN 1742-8130. Archived from the original on 2006-10-18.
  18. ^ Buehring GC, Shen HM, Jensen HM, Choi KY, Sun D, Nuovo G (May 2014). "Bovine leukemia virus DNA in human breast tissue". Emerging Infectious Diseases. 20 (5): 772–82. doi:10.3201/eid2005.131298. PMC 4012802. PMID 24750974.
  19. ^ Buehring GC, Shen HM, Jensen HM, Jin DL, Hudes M, Block G (2 September 2015). "Exposure to Bovine Leukemia Virus Is Associated with Breast Cancer: A Case-Control Study". PLOS ONE. 10 (9): e0134304. Bibcode:2015PLoSO..1034304B. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0134304. PMC 4557937. PMID 26332838.
  20. ^ Buehring GC, Shen H, Schwartz DA, Lawson JS (22 June 2017). "Bovine leukemia virus linked to breast cancer in Australian women and identified before breast cancer development". PLOS ONE. 12 (6): e0179367. Bibcode:2017PLoSO..1279367B. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0179367. PMC 5480893. PMID 28640828.
  21. ^ Baltzell KA, Shen HM, Krishnamurthy S, Sison JD, Nuovo GJ, Buehring GC (April 2018). "Bovine leukemia virus linked to breast cancer but not coinfection with human papillomavirus: Case-control study of women in Texas". Cancer. 124 (7): 1342–1349. doi:10.1002/cncr.31169. PMID 29266207.
  22. ^ Buehring, Gertrude C.; Sans, Hannah M. (27 December 2019). "Breast Cancer Gone Viral? Review of Possible Role of Bovine Leukemia Virus in Breast Cancer, and Related Opportunities for Cancer Prevention". International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 17 (1): 209. doi:10.3390/ijerph17010209. ISSN 1660-4601. PMC 6982050. PMID 31892207.
  23. ^ Zhang R, Jiang J, Sun W, Zhang J, Huang K, Gu X, et al. (October 2016). "Lack of association between bovine leukemia virus and breast cancer in Chinese patients". Breast Cancer Research. 18 (1): 101. doi:10.1186/s13058-016-0763-8. PMC 5057430. PMID 27724949.
  24. ^ Buehring GC (March 2017). "Response to "Lack of association between bovine leukemia virus and breast cancer in Chinese patients"". Breast Cancer Research. 19 (1): 24. doi:10.1186/s13058-017-0808-7. PMC 5341364. PMID 28270176.
  25. ^ Gillet NA, Willems L (November 2016). "Whole genome sequencing of 51 breast cancers reveals that tumors are devoid of bovine leukemia virus DNA". Retrovirology. 13 (1): 75. doi:10.1186/s12977-016-0308-3. PMC 5095936. PMID 27814725.
  26. ^ Buehring GC, DeLaney A, Shen H, Chu DL, Razavian N, Schwartz DA, et al. (April 2019). "Bovine leukemia virus discovered in human blood". BMC Infectious Diseases. 19 (1): 297. doi:10.1186/s12879-019-3891-9. PMC 6444872. PMID 30940091.
  27. ^ a b OIE (2010). "Chapter 2.4.11 Enzootic bovine leukosis" (PDF). Manual of Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines for Terrestrial Animals. World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-09-20.

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