News & Publications
Mammalian endogenous retroviruses
Mager DL, Stoye JP. Mammalian endogenous retroviruses. Microbiology Spectrum 3: MDNA3-0009, 2015.
Over 40% of mammalian genomes comprise the products of reverse transcription. Among such retrotransposed sequences are those characterized by the presence of long
terminal repeats (LTRs), including the endogenous retroviruses (ERVs), which are inherited genetic elements closely resembling the proviruses formed following exogenous retrovirus infection. Sequences derived from ERVs make up at least 8 to 10% of the
human and mouse genomes and range from ancient sequences that predate mammalian divergence to elements that are currently still active. In this chapter we describe the discovery, classification and origins of ERVs in mammals and consider cellular mechanisms that have evolved to control their expression. We also discuss the negative effects of ERVs as agents of genetic disease and cancer and review examples of ERV protein domestication to serve host functions, as in placental development. Finally, we address growing evidence
that the gene regulatory potential of ERV LTRs has been exploited multiple times during evolution to regulate genes and gene networks. Thus, although recently endogenized retroviral elements are often pathogenic, those that survive the forces of negative selection become neutral components of the host genome or can be harnessed to serve beneficial roles.