Genomewide screening for fusogenic human endogenous retrovirus envelopes identifies syncytin 2, a gene conserved on primate evolution

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Oct 28;100(22):13013-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2132646100. Epub 2003 Oct 13.


Screening human sequence databases for endogenous retroviral elements with coding envelope genes has revealed 16 candidate genes that we assayed for their fusogenic properties. All 16 genes were cloned in a eukaryotic expression vector and assayed for cell-cell fusion by using a large panel of mammalian cells in transient transfection assays. Fusion was observed for two human endogenous retrovirus (HERV) envelopes, the previously characterized HERV-W envelope, also called syncytin, and a previously uncharacterized gene from the HERV-FRD family. Cells prone to env-mediated fusion were different for the two envelopes, indicating different receptor usage. A search for the FRDenv gene in primates indicated that the corresponding proviral element is present in all simians, from New World monkeys to humans, being absent only in prosimians. Cloning of the corresponding env genes in simians disclosed conservation of the fully coding status of the gene, and most remarkably, conservation of its fusogenic property. Finally, a Northern blot analysis for the expression of the FRD family among a series of human tissues demonstrated specific expression in the placenta, as previously demonstrated for the other fusogenic human envelope of the HERV-W family. Altogether, the present data have identified a previously uncharacterized envelope (that we propose to name syncytin 2 after renaming syncytin as syncytin 1) with a potential role in placenta formation, and the identification of the complete set of retroviral envelopes with fusogenic properties now allows a definite analysis of the possible role of HERV in this physiological process, via classical genetic approaches.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Cell Fusion
  • Cell Line
  • Chromosome Mapping
  • Conserved Sequence
  • Endogenous Retroviruses / classification
  • Endogenous Retroviruses / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genome, Human*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny
  • Primates / genetics*
  • Primates / virology
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Viral Envelope Proteins / genetics*


  • Viral Envelope Proteins

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AJ577595
  • GENBANK/AJ577596
  • GENBANK/AJ577597
  • GENBANK/AJ577598
  • GENBANK/AJ577599
  • GENBANK/AJ577600