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Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 2000 Mar;31(2-3):193-9.

Endogenous retroviruses and schizophrenia.

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Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Stanley Division of Developmental Neurovirology, Department of Pediatrics, 600 N. Wolfe Street, Blalock 1111, Baltimore, MD, USA.


Retroviruses are biologically complex infectious agents which are capable of cellular infection and subsequent integration into the host genome. Retroviruses can exist in an endogenous form in which viral sequences are integrated into the human germline and are vertically transmitted in a Mendelian fashion. The transcriptional activation of these viral sequences in cells within the central nervous system can affect the transcriptional regulation of adjacent genes and result in alterations of neural functioning. This report discusses evidence for a possible role of endogenous retroviruses in the etiopathogenesis of schizophrenia and other human brain diseases. Evidence of endogenous retrovirus activity is manifested by the identification of viral sequences in the brains and cerebrospinal fluids of affected individuals. In addition, affected individuals display evidence of increased activity of virally-encoded reverse transcriptase. The identification of a retroviral component of schizophrenia would be consistent with genetic, environmental, and neurodevelopmental aspects of the disease process. The delineation of a role for retroviruses in disease pathogenesis might lead to new methods for the diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia.

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