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J Virol. 2013 Dec;87(24):13837-52. doi: 10.1128/JVI.02388-13. Epub 2013 Oct 9.

Comprehensive analysis of human endogenous retrovirus group HERV-W locus transcription in multiple sclerosis brain lesions by high-throughput amplicon sequencing.

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Institute of Human Genetics, Center of Human and Molecular Biology, Medical Faculty, University of Saarland, Homburg/Saar, Germany.


Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) of the HERV-W group comprise hundreds of loci in the human genome. Deregulated HERV-W expression and HERV-W locus ERVWE1-encoded Syncytin-1 protein have been implicated in the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis (MS). However, the actual transcription of HERV-W loci in the MS context has not been comprehensively analyzed. We investigated transcription of HERV-W in MS brain lesions and white matter brain tissue from healthy controls by employing next-generation amplicon sequencing of HERV-W env-specific reverse transcriptase (RT) PCR products, thus revealing transcribed HERV-W loci and the relative transcript levels of those loci. We identified more than 100 HERV-W loci that were transcribed in the human brain, with a limited number of loci being predominantly transcribed. Importantly, relative transcript levels of HERV-W loci were very similar between MS and healthy brain tissue samples, refuting deregulated transcription of HERV-W env in MS brain lesions, including the high-level-transcribed ERVWE1 locus encoding Syncytin-1. Quantitative RT-PCR likewise did not reveal differences in MS regarding HERV-W env general transcript or ERVWE1- and ERVWE2-specific transcript levels. However, we obtained evidence for interindividual differences in HERV-W transcript levels. Reporter gene assays indicated promoter activity of many HERV-W long terminal repeats (LTRs), including structurally incomplete LTRs. Our comprehensive analysis of HERV-W transcription in the human brain thus provides important information on the biology of HERV-W in MS lesions and normal human brain, implications for study design, and mechanisms by which HERV-W may (or may not) be involved in MS.

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