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Virology. 1999 Jun 5;258(2):441-50.

Isolation of a human endogenous retroviral HERV-H element with an open env reading frame.

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Section of Virology, Lund University, Sölvegatan 23, Lund, S-22362, Sweden.


About 100 elements of the human endogenous retroviral HERV-H family have full-length env genes potentially coding for Env proteins with sequences highly similar to the immunosuppressive peptide CKS-17 from the MLV transmembrane protein p15E. However, previously sequenced HERV-H env genes have contained stop codons or framehifts. To isolate elements with open env reading frames, we first tried to assess the diversity of HERV-H env genes by comparing PCR-generated env sequences from genomic DNA with published HERV-H sequences. A region at the beginning of env displayed a similarity of 84-98% among 15 different elements. We then used a probe from one of the PCR-generated clones, 98% similar to the consensus sequence in this region, to screen a human genomic lambda library. Three HERV-H elements displaying ca. 98% identity in the env gene were isolated and were shown to have integrated relatively recently, after the divergence of the orangutan and the african great ape lineages. One of these elements, HERV-H19, had a 1752-bp open env reading frame, producing a 77-kDa Env protein in in vitro translation reactions. This is the first demonstration of a coding competent member of the HERV-H family. These findings raise the possibility that HERV-H Env proteins may play a biological role in human cells.

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