Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) occupy approximately 8% of the human genome. HERVs, transcribed in early embryos, are epigenetically silenced in somatic cells, except under pathological conditions. HERV-K is thought to protect embryos from exogenous viral infection. However, uncontrolled HERV-K expression in somatic cells has been implicated in several diseases. Here, we show that SOX2, which plays a key role in maintaining the pluripotency of stem cells, is critical for HERV-K LTR5Hs. HERV-K undergoes retrotransposition within producer cells in the absence of Env expression. Furthermore, we identified new HERV-K integration sites in long-term culture of induced pluripotent stem cells that express SOX2. These results suggest that the strict dependence of HERV-K on SOX2 has allowed HERV-K to protect early embryos during evolution while limiting the potentially harmful effects of HERV-K retrotransposition on host genome integrity in these early embryos. IMPORTANCE Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) account for approximately 8% of the human genome; however, the physiological role of HERV-K remains unknown. This study found that HERV-K LTR5Hs and LTR5B were transactivated by SOX2, which is essential for maintaining and reestablishing pluripotency. HERV-K can undergo retrotransposition within producer cells without env expression, and new integration sites may affect cell proliferation. In induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), genomic impairment due to HERV-K retrotransposition has been identified, but it is a rare event. Considering the retention of SOX2-responsive elements in the HERV-K long terminal repeat (LTR) for over 20 million years, we conclude that HERV-K may play important physiological roles in SOX2-expressing cells.
|Journal||Journal of virology|
|Publication status||Published - 2022 May|
- KEYWORDS HERV
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science