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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. May 15, 1993; 90(10): 4480–4484.

Identification of human endogenous retroviruses with complex mRNA expression and particle formation.


Retroviruses comprise strains with considerable disease potential in animals and humans. In addition to exogenous strains transmitted horizontally, endogenous proviruses are transmitted through the germ line. Some of these endogenous retroviruses can be pathogenic in mice and possibly in other animal species. They may also be considered as mobile genetic elements with the potential to produce mutations. In humans, genomic DNA contains numerous endogenous retroviral sequences detected by their partial relatedness to animal retroviruses. However, all proviruses sequenced so far have been found to be defective. In this communication, we describe the expression of a family of human endogenous retrovirus sequences (HERV-K) in GH cells, a teratocarcinoma cell line producing the human teratocarcinoma-derived retrovirus (HTDV) particles previously described by us. Four viral mRNA species could be identified, including a full-length mRNA. The other three subgenomic mRNAs are generated by single or double splicing events. This expression pattern is reminiscent of the more complex control of virus gene regulation observed, for example, with lenti- or spumavirus strains, although HERV-K shows no sequence homology to human T-lymphotropic virus or human immunodeficiency virus. Sequence analysis of expressed HERV-K genomes revealed non-defective gag genes, a prerequisite for particle formation. Open reading frames were also observed in pol and env. Antisera raised against recombinant gag proteins of HERV-K stained HTDV particles in immunoelectron microscopy, linking them to the HERV-K family.

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