CpG methylation suppresses transcriptional activity of human syncytin-1 in non-placental tissues

Exp Cell Res. 2006 Apr 15;312(7):1011-20. doi: 10.1016/j.yexcr.2005.12.010. Epub 2006 Jan 20.


Syncytin-1 is a captive envelope glycoprotein encoded by one of human endogenous retroviruses W. It is expressed exclusively in the placental trophoblast where it participates in cell-to-cell fusion during differentiation of syncytiotrophobast. In other tissues, however, syncytin-1 expression must be kept in check because inadvertent cell fusion might be dangerous for tissue organization and integrity. We describe here an inverse correlation between CpG methylation of syncytin-1 5' long terminal repeat and its expression. Hypomethylation of the syncytin-1 5' long terminal repeat in the placenta and in the choriocarcinoma-derived cell line BeWo was detected. However, other analyzed primary cells and cell lines non-expressing syncytin-1 contain proviruses heavily methylated in this sequence. CpG methylation of syncytin-1 is resistant to the effect of the demethylating agent 5-azacytidine. The inhibitory role of CpG methylation is further confirmed by transient transfection of in-vitro-methylated syncytin-1 promoter-driven reporter construct. Altogether, we conclude that CpG methylation plays a principal role in the transcriptional suppression of syncytin-1 in non-placental tissues, and, in contrast, demethylation of the syncytin-1 promoter in trophoblast is a prerequisite for its expression and differentiation of multinucleated syncytiotrophoblast.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • CpG Islands / physiology*
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Down-Regulation / genetics
  • Gene Products, env / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Gene Products, env / biosynthesis
  • Gene Products, env / genetics*
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Placenta / metabolism
  • Pregnancy Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Pregnancy Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Pregnancy Proteins / genetics*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Terminal Repeat Sequences
  • Transcription Factors / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Transcription Factors / biosynthesis
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Trophoblasts / metabolism


  • Gene Products, env
  • Pregnancy Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • syncytin