Apparently normal Hawaiian green turtles Chelonia mydas and those displaying fibropapillomas were analyzed for infection by retroviruses. Strikingly, all samples were positive for polymerase enhanced reverse transcriptase (PERT) with levels high enough to quantitate by the conventional reverse transcriptase (RT) assay. However, samples of skin, even from asymptomatic turtles, were RT positive, although the levels of enzyme activity in healthy turtles hatched and raised in captivity were much lower than those observed in asymptomatic free-ranging turtles. Turtles with fibropapillomas displayed a broad range of reverse transcriptase activity. Skin and eye fibropapillomas and a heart tumor were further analyzed and shown to have reverse transcriptase activity that banded in a sucrose gradient at 1.17 g ml-1. The reverse transcriptase activity purified from the heart tumor displayed a temperature optimum of 37??C and showed a preference for Mn2+ over Mg2+. Sucrose gradient fractions of this sample displaying elevated reverse transcriptase activity contained primarily retrovitalsized particles with prominent envelope spikes, when negatively stained and examined by electron microscopy. Sodium dodecylsulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) analysis of gradient-purified virions revealed a conserved profile among 4 independent tumors and showed 7 prominent proteins having molecular weights of 116, 83, 51, 43, 40, 20 and 14 kDa. The data suggest that retroviral infections are widespread in Hawaiian green turtles and a comprehensive investigation is warranted to address the possibility that these agents cause green turtle fibropapillomatosis (GTFP).
Additional Publication Details
Evidence for retrovirus infections in green turtles Chelonia mydas from the Hawaiian islands