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Regulation of the expression of human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs): elements in fetal development and a possible role in the development of cancer and neurological diseases

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Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) are remnants of ancient retroviral germline infections. Most HERV sequences are silenced in somatic cells, but interest is emerging on the involvement of HERV derived transcripts and proteins in human physiology and disease. A HERV-W encoded protein, syncytin-1, has been co-opted into fetal physiology, where it plays a role in trophoblast formation. Altered HERV transcription and expression of HERV derived proteins are associated with various cancer types and neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS). The implication of HERVs as potential mediators of both health and disease suggests important roles of regulatory mechanisms and alterations of these in physiological and pathological processes. The regulation of HERV sequences is mediated by a wide variety of mechanisms, and the focus of this review is on selected aspects of these, including epigenetic mechanisms such as CpG methylation and histone modifications of the HP1-H3K9me axis, viral transactivation events, and regulatory perspectives of transient stimuli in the microenvironment. Increasing knowledge of the regulation of HERV sequences will not only contribute to the understanding of complex pathogeneses, but also may pinpoint potential targets for better diagnosis and treatment in complex diseases as MS.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAPMIS - Journal of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology
Pages (from-to)241-253
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - May 2021

    Research areas

  • HERV, epigenetics, multiple sclerosis, regulation, viral transactivation

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