Evolution and antiviral activity of a human protein of retroviral origin

Science. 2022 Oct 28;378(6618):422-428. doi: 10.1126/science.abq7871. Epub 2022 Oct 27.


Endogenous retroviruses are abundant components of mammalian genomes descended from ancient germline infections. In several mammals, the envelope proteins encoded by these elements protect against exogenous viruses, but this activity has not been documented with endogenously expressed envelopes in humans. We report that the human genome harbors a large pool of envelope-derived sequences with the potential to restrict retroviral infection. To test this, we characterized an envelope-derived protein, Suppressyn. We found that Suppressyn is expressed in human preimplantation embryos and developing placenta using its ancestral retroviral promoter. Cell culture assays showed that Suppressyn, and its hominoid orthologs, could restrict infection by extant mammalian type D retroviruses. Our data support a generalizable model of retroviral envelope co-option for host immunity and genome defense.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Betaretrovirus* / genetics
  • Betaretrovirus* / immunology
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Female
  • Gene Products, env* / genetics
  • Gene Products, env* / metabolism
  • Genome, Human
  • Humans
  • Placenta* / metabolism
  • Placenta* / virology
  • Placentation*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Proteins* / genetics
  • Pregnancy Proteins* / metabolism


  • ERVH48-1 protein, human
  • Gene Products, env
  • Pregnancy Proteins