Mol Path 56:11-18 doi:10.1136/mp.56.1.11
  • Review

Demystified . . . Human endogenous retroviruses

  1. P N Nelson1,
  2. P R Carnegie2,
  3. J Martin1,
  4. H Davari Ejtehadi1,
  5. P Hooley1,
  6. D Roden1,
  7. S Rowland-Jones3,
  8. P Warren1,
  9. J Astley1,
  10. P G Murray4
  1. 1School of Applied Sciences, Division of Biomedical Science and Biosciences, University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton WV1 1SB, UK
  2. 2Centre for Molecular Immunology and Instrumentation, University of Western Australia, WA 6152, Australia
  3. 3The John Radcliffe Hospital, Headington, Oxford, UK
  4. 4Department of Pathology, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr P N Nelson, Molecular Immunology Laboratories, School of Applied Sciences, University of Wolverhampton, Wulfruna Street, Wolverhampton WV1 1SB, UK;
  • Accepted 19 September 2002


Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) are a family of viruses within our genome with similarities to present day exogenous retroviruses. HERVs have been inherited by successive generations and it is possible that some have conferred biological benefits. However, several HERVs have been implicated in certain cancers and autoimmune diseases. This article demystifies these retroviruses by providing an insight into HERVs, their means of classification, and a synopsis of HERVs implicated in cancer and autoimmunity. Furthermore, the biological roles of HERVs are explored.