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Open Rheumatol J. 2013 Mar 22;7:13-21. doi: 10.2174/1874312901307010013. Print 2013.

Human Endogenous Retroviruses (HERVs) and Autoimmune Rheumatic Disease: Is There a Link?

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  • 1Department of Rheumatology, Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals NHS Trust, Wolverhampton, UK.


Autoimmune rheumatic diseases, such as RA and SLE, are caused by genetic, hormonal and environmental factors. Human Endogenous Retroviruses (HERVs) may be triggers of autoimmune rheumatic disease. HERVs are fossil viruses that began to be integrated into the human genome some 30-40 million years ago and now make up 8% of the genome. Evidence suggests HERVs may cause RA and SLE, among other rheumatic diseases. The key mechanisms by which HERVS are postulated to cause disease include molecular mimicry and immune dysregulation. Identification of HERVs in RA and SLE could lead to novel treatments for these chronic conditions. This review summarises the evidence for HERVs as contributors to autoimmune rheumatic disease and the clinical implications and mechanisms of pathogenesis are discussed.


HERV; Human endogenous retrovirus; bioinformatics.; molecular mimicry; rheumatoid arthritis

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