Xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) is an authentic, newly recognized human retrovirus first identified in prostate cancer tissues from men with a deficiency in the innate immunity gene RNASEL. At present, studies have detected XMRV at widely different rates in prostate cancer cases (0-27%) and in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS; 0-67%). Indirect or direct modes of carcinogenesis by XMRV have been suggested depending on whether the virus was found in stroma or malignant epithelium. Viral replication in the prostate might be affected by androgens, which stimulate XMRV through a transcriptional enhancer site in viral DNA. By contrast, host restriction factors, such as APOBEC3 and tetherin, inhibit virus replication. Immune dysfunction mediated by XMRV has been suggested as a possible factor in CFS. Recent studies show that some existing antiretroviral drugs suppress XMRV infections and diagnostic assays are under development. Although other retroviruses of the same genus as XMRV (gammaretroviruses) cause cancer and neurological disease in animals, whether XMRV is a cause of either prostate cancer or CFS remains unknown. Emerging science surrounding XMRV is contributing to our knowledge of retroviral infections while focusing intense interest on two major human diseases.