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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;


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.

  • human endogenous retroviruses
  • cancer
  • autoimmunity
  • CFTR, cystic fibrosis gene
  • CTL, cytotoxic T lymphocyte
  • EBV, Epstein-Barr virus
  • HERV, human endogenous retrovirus
  • HIV, human immunodeficiency virus
  • HTLV, human T cell leukaemia virus
  • IDDM, insulin dependent diabetes mellitus
  • ISP, immunosuppressive peptide
  • LINES, long stretches of related sequences
  • LTR, long terminal repeat
  • MHC, major histocompatibility complex
  • MMTV, mouse mammary tumour virus
  • PCR, polymerase chain reaction
  • PTN, pleiotrophin gene
  • RA, rheumatoid arthritis
  • SLE, systemic lupus erythematosus
  • SS, Sjogren’s syndrome
  • TGCT, testicular germ cell tumour

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