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Oncogene. 2003 Mar 13;22(10):1528-35.

Quantitation of HERV-K env gene expression and splicing in human breast cancer.

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Department of Medicine, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL 35294-3300, USA.


Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) comprise up to 8% of the human genome. In previous studies, we demonstrated that type 1 HERV-K envelope (env) transcripts are expressed in most human breast cancers, but not in normal breast tissues. In the current study, we report that type 2 HERV-K env transcripts are also present in human breast cancers. By real-time RT-PCR, the expression of HERV-K env transcripts was 5-10-fold higher in breast cancer cell lines treated with estradiol and progesterone than in cells without treatment, and expression was significantly higher in most breast cancer tissues than in normal breast tissues. Furthermore, both types of HERV-K env transcripts were capable of being spliced into subgenomic env transcripts and various splice donor and acceptor sites were detected in breast cancers. The selective expression and distribution of multiple HERV-K endogenous retroviral element splice variants in breast cancer, but not in normal controls, suggests that they are novel breast tumor markers.

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