Insertional polymorphisms: a new lease of life for endogenous retroviruses in human disease

Trends Genet. 2007 Jul;23(7):326-33. doi: 10.1016/j.tig.2007.05.004. Epub 2007 May 23.


Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) result from ancestral infection by infectious viruses over millions of years of primate evolution. Some are transcriptionally active, express proteins and therefore have the potential to cause disease. Here we review the controversial attempts to link them with cancer and autoimmunity. The main difficulty is that most HERVs investigated to date are present at the same locus in 100% of the population. However, a new class of insertionally polymorphic HERV-K family members, present in a minority of individuals, has recently been described. We propose that insertionally polymorphic HERVs could be novel genetic risk factors and hence provide a new lease of life for research into HERVs and disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / virology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / virology
  • Endogenous Retroviruses / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Frequency
  • Genome, Human
  • Humans
  • Models, Genetic
  • Neoplasms / virology
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • Terminal Repeat Sequences
  • Virus Integration