Simian virus 40 (SV40) was recognized as a contaminant of early poliovirus vaccines that were provided to millions of individuals in Europe and in the USA between 1955 and 1963. SV40, a DNA virus of the family of papovaviridae, was proven to be oncogenic in rodents and able to transform human and animal cells in vitro. In 1993 SV40 was accidentally discovered to produce mesotheliomas in hamsters when it was injected in visceral cavities. Afterwards, SV40 DNA sequences were detected with significative frequency in human pleural mesotheliomas by using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and then SV40 DNA oncogenicity was associated with its large T antigen (Tag). This finding was confirmed by many laboratories, while a few research groups failed to replicate these data and argued that the SV40 DNA detection might be a PCR contamination artefact. In this review the dispute is examined in the light of recent experiments performed to identify molecular and cellular aspects of carcinogenicity and/or co-carcinogenicity of SV40 in human mesothelioma.
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