Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) are viruses that have colonized the germ line and spread through vertical passage. Only the more recently acquired HERVs, such as the HERV-K (HML-2) group, maintain coding open reading frames. Expression of HERV-Ks has been linked to different pathological conditions, including HIV infection, but our knowledge on which specific HERV-Ks are expressed in primary lymphocytes currently is very limited. To identify the most expressed HERV-Ks in an unbiased manner, we analyzed their expression patterns in peripheral blood lymphocytes using Pacific Biosciences (PacBio) singlemolecule real-time (SMRT) sequencing. We observe that three HERV-Ks (KII, K102, and K18) constitute over 90% of the total HERV-K expression in primary human lymphocytes of five different donors. We also show experimentally that two of these HERV-K env sequences (K18 and K102) retain their ability to produce full-length and posttranslationally processed envelope proteins in cell culture. We show that HERV-K18 Env can be incorporated into HIV-1 but not simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) particles. Moreover, HERV-K18 Env incorporation into HIV-1 virions is dependent on HIV-1 matrix. Taken together, we generated high-resolution HERV-K expression profiles specific for activated human lymphocytes. We found that one of the most abundantly expressed HERV-K envelopes not only makes a full-length protein but also specifically interacts with HIV-1. Our findings raise the possibility that these endogenous retroviral Env proteins could directly influence HIV-1 replication.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6213-6223
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Virology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 2014


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