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Bioessays. 1998 Apr;20(4):307-16.

Placental endogenous retrovirus (ERV): structural, functional, and evolutionary significance.

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Institute of Zoology, University of Mainz, Germany.


That endogenous retrovirus (ERV) is present within the placenta of humans and other mammals has been known for the past 25 years, but the significance of this observation is still not fully understood. Much molecular biological data have emerged in recent years to support the earlier electron microscopic data on the presence of placental ERV. The evidence for ERV in animal and human placental tissue is presented, then integrated with data on the presence of ERV in a range of other tissues, in particular teratocarcinoma cells. Placental invasiveness and maternal immunosuppression are then discussed in relation to metalloproteinase secretion, the immunosuppressive potential of retroviruses, and placental growth factors, while the evidence for a functional link between placental protooncogenes and trophoblast malignancy is reviewed. Finally, placental development, structure, and life span are discussed within an evolutionary context. The hypothesis that one or more ancient trophoblastic ERVs could have played a role in the evolution and divergence of all placental mammals is evaluated.

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