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Oncogene. 2011 Nov 24;30(47):4697-706. doi: 10.1038/onc.2011.179. Epub 2011 May 23.

Inactivation of the von Hippel-Lindau tumor suppressor leads to selective expression of a human endogenous retrovirus in kidney cancer.

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  • 1Hematology Branch, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


A human endogenous retrovirus type E (HERV-E) was recently found to be selectively expressed in most renal cell carcinomas (RCCs). Importantly, antigens derived from this provirus are immunogenic, stimulating cytotoxic T cells that kill RCC cells in vitro and in vivo. Here, we show HERV-E expression is restricted to the clear cell subtype of RCC (ccRCC) characterized by an inactivation of the von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) tumor-suppressor gene with subsequent stabilization of hypoxia-inducible transcription factors (HIFs)-1α and -2α. HERV-E expression in ccRCC linearly correlated with HIF-2α levels and could be silenced in tumor cells by either transfection of normal VHL or small interfering RNA inhibition of HIF-2α. Using chromatin immunoprecipitation, we demonstrated that HIF-2α can serve as transcriptional factor for HERV-E by binding with HIF response element (HRE) localized in the proviral 5' long terminal repeat (LTR). Remarkably, the LTR was found to be hypomethylated only in HERV-E-expressing ccRCC while other tumors and normal tissues possessed a hypermethylated LTR preventing proviral expression. Taken altogether, these findings provide the first evidence that inactivation of a tumor suppressor gene can result in aberrant proviral expression in a human tumor and give insights needed for translational research aimed at boosting human immunity against antigenic components of this HERV-E.

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