Minor genetic variations are found consistently in different geographic areas; thus, genetic analysis of JC virus samples has been useful in tracing the history of human migration .
JCV can cross the blood-brain barrier into the central nervous system, where it infects oligodendrocytes and astrocytes, possibly through the 5-HT2A serotonin receptor. JC viral DNA can be detected in both non-PML affected as well as PML-affected (see below) brain tissue.
Immunodeficiency or immunosuppression allows JCV to reactivate. In the brain it causes the usually fatal progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, or PML, by destroying oligodendrocytes. Whether this represents the reactivation of JCV within the CNS or seeding of newly reactivated JCV via blood or lymphatics is unknown. Several studies since 2000 have suggested that the virus is also linked to colorectal cancer, as JCV has been found in malignant colon tumors, but these findings are still controversial.
The boxed warning for the drug rituximab (Rituxan, co-marketed by Genentech BioOncology and Biogen Idec) includes that JC virus infection resulting in progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy and death has been reported in patients treated with the drug