Human endogenous retrovirus K solo-LTR formation and insertional polymorphisms: implications for human and viral evolution

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Feb 10;101(6):1668-72. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0307885100. Epub 2004 Feb 2.


Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) are a potential source of genetic diversity in the human genome. Although many of these elements have been inactivated over time by the accumulation of deleterious mutations or internal recombination leading to solo-LTR formation, several members of the HERV-K family have been identified that remain nearly intact and probably represent recent integration events. To determine whether HERV-K elements have caused recent changes in the human genome, we have undertaken a study of the level of HERV-K polymorphism that exists in the human population. By using a high-resolution unblotting technique, we analyzed 13 human-specific HERV-K elements in 18 individuals. We found that solo LTRs have formed at five of these loci. These results enable the estimation of HERV solo-LTR formation in the human genome and indicate that these events occur much more frequently than described in inbred mice. Detailed sequence analysis of one provirus shows that solo-LTR formation occurred at least three separate times in recent history. An unoccupied preintegration site also was present at this locus in two individuals, indicating that although the age of this provirus is estimated to be approximately 1.2 million years, it has not yet become fixed in the human population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Endogenous Retroviruses / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Humans
  • Mutagenesis, Insertional*
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • Repetitive Sequences, Nucleic Acid*