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Genome Biol Evol. 2013;5(2):307-28. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evt010.

Transcriptional profiling of human endogenous retrovirus group HERV-K(HML-2) loci in melanoma.

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Institute of Human Genetics, Medical Faculty, University of Saarland, Homburg/Saar, Germany.


Recent studies suggested a role for the human endogenous retrovirus (HERV) group HERV-K(HML-2) in melanoma because of upregulated transcription and expression of HERV-K(HML-2)-encoded proteins. Very little is known about which HML-2 loci are transcribed in melanoma. We assigned >1,400 HML-2 cDNA sequences generated from various melanoma and related samples to genomic HML-2 loci, identifying a total of 23 loci as transcribed. Transcription profiles of loci differed significantly between samples. One locus was found transcribed only in melanoma-derived samples but not in melanocytes and might represent a marker for melanoma. Several of the transcribed loci harbor ORFs for retroviral Gag and/or Env proteins. Env-encoding loci were transcribed only in melanoma. Specific investigation of rec and np9 transcripts indicated transcription of protein encoding loci in melanoma and melanocytes hinting at the relevance of Rec and Np9 in melanoma. UVB irradiation changed transcription profiles of loci and overall transcript levels decreased in melanoma and melanocytes. We further identified transcribed HML-2 loci formed by reverse transcription of spliced HML-2 transcripts by L1 machinery or in a retroviral fashion, with loci potentially encoding HML-2-like proteins. We reveal complex, sample-specific transcription of HML-2 loci in melanoma and related samples. Identified HML-2 loci and proteins encoded by those loci are particularly relevant for further studying the role of HML-2 in melanoma. Transcription of HERVs appears as a complex mechanism requiring specific studies to elucidate which HERV loci are transcribed and how transcribed HERVs may be involved in disease.

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