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[Retroviruses-derived sequences in the human genome. Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs)].

[Article in Polish]

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Laboratorium Wirusologii, Instytut Immunologii i Terapii Doświadczalnej PAN we Wrocławiu, Wrocław, Poland.


Retroviruses-derived elements in the human genome constitute 90% of non-coding mobile sequences. Reverse transcriptase (RT) plays an essential role in their transposition as do long terminal repeats (LTRs), which contain promotors, enhancers, and regulatory sequences. Some retroelements (pseudogens and retrogenes, e.g. SINE) are non-autonomic and do not possess their own RT. These elements are dependent on autonomic elements (retroposons, e.g. LINE, retrotransposons, exo- and endogenous retroviruses). The genome of retroviruses is composed of gag, pol, and env genes flanked by long terminal repeats. Endogenous retroviruses are probably the remnants of ancient germ cell infection by exogenous retroviruses and are transmissible to the next generation in a Mendelian way. Most of them are defective (because of mutation accumulation), but some are still active and their expression is regulated by different factors (UV radiation, inflammatory cytokines, steroid hormones, and exogenous virus products). Retroelements as well as their gene products exert influence on the organism's functions. They influence the plasticity and evolution of genomes, are a source of promotors and regulatory sequences, but they also supply additional signals of transcription initiation, mRNA splicing, and STOP codons. One of the positive aspects of human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) is the participation of their products in normal syncytiotrophoblast formation. They also block exogenous retrovirus replication by receptor interference or antisense mRNA. Their presence is considered to be connected with a number of autoimmunological diseases (multiple sclerosis, insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, systemic lupus erythematosus), cancer, or even psychiatric disorders (schizophrenia). There are also other problems connected with the potential role of ERVs in genomic therapy (with retroviruses vectors) and transplantology (xenotransplantation).

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