Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs), probably representing footprints of ancient germ-cell retroviral infections, occupy about 1% of the human genome. HERVs can influence genome regulation through expression of retroviral genes, either via genomic rearrangements following HERV integrations or through the involvement of HERV LTRs in the regulation of gene expression. Some HERVs emerged in the genome over 30 MYr ago, while others have appeared rather recently, at about the time of hominid and ape lineages divergence. HERVs might have conferred antiviral resistance on early human ancestors, thus helping them to survive. Furthermore, newly integrated HERVs could have changed the pattern of gene expression and therefore played a significant role in the evolution and divergence of Hominoidea superfamily. Comparative analysis of HERVs, HERV LTRs, neighboring genes, and their regulatory interplay in the human and ape genomes will help us to understand the possible impact of HERVs on evolution and genome regulation in the primates. BioEssays 22:161-171, 2000.
Copyright 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.