Polymerase chain reaction using specific primers, failed to detect HTLV-I amplicons in patients with rheumatic diseases previously shown to possess antibodies to retroviral products. However, by employing broad spectrum oligonucleotide primers, 135 bp amplicons were generated from peripheral blood mononuclear cells and synovial fluid cells. Subsequent cloning and DNA sequencing revealed homology to a number of exogenous and human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs). Furthermore, in combining the presence of type B and C related endogenous retroviruses, a significant association (p=0.014) was apparent for chronic autoimmune rheumatic diseases as compared to controls. Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction of RNA derived from patients, healthy controls and cell lines (U937, BJAB, human endothelial lung fibroblasts) demonstrated ubiquitous expression of HERV-K10 and RTVL-H2. Furthermore messenger RNA expression of HERV-K10 was enhanced in fibroblasts infected with human cytomegalovirus. It is plausible that subsequent production of HERV peptides could explain the presence of anti-retroviral antibodies in cohorts of patients with autoimmune rheumatic diseases.