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Virology. 2001 Jan 5;279(1):280-91.

Cell type-specific expression and promoter activity of human endogenous retroviral long terminal repeats.

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Institute of Molecular Virology, Oberschleissheim, D-85764, Germany.


Evolution over millions of years has adapted several thousand copies of retrovirus-like elements and over 10 times as many solitary long terminal repeats (LTRs) to their present location in the human genome. Transcription of these human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) has been detected in various cells and tissues, and in some cases their transcriptional control elements have been recruited by cellular genes. We used a retroviral pol-specific expression array to obtain a HERV transcription profile in a variety of human cells such as epidermal keratinocytes, liver cells, kidney cells, pancreatic cells, lymphocytes, and lung fibroblasts. This rapid screening test revealed a distinct HERV pol-expression pattern in each cell type tested so far. About 40 different U3/R regulatory sequences from the HERV-H and HERV-W families were then amplified from actively transcribed 3'HERV LTRs of various cell lines and tissues. Their promoter activities were compared with LTR sequences of other known HERV families in 12 human cell lines using a transient luciferase reporter system. Expression of the isolated HERV LTRs varied significantly in these cell lines, in some cases showing strict cell type specificity. These results suggest that endogenous retroviral LTRs may be a valuable source of transcriptional regulatory elements for the construction of targeted retroviral expression vectors.

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