A systematic review of expression and immunogenicity of human endogenous retroviral proteins in cancer and discussion of therapeutic approaches

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Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) are remnants of ancient retroviral infections that have become fixed in the human genome. While HERV genes are typically silenced in healthy somatic cells, there are numerous reports of HERV transcription and translation across a wide spectrum of cancers, while T and B cell responses against HERV proteins have been detected in cancer patients. This review systematically categorizes the published evidence on the expression of and adaptive immune response against specific HERVs in distinct cancer types. A systematic literature search was performed using Medical Search Headings (MeSH) in the PubMed/Medline database. Papers were included if they described the translational activity of HERVs. We present multiple tables that pair the protein expression of specific HERVs and cancer types with information on the quality of the evidence. We find that HERV-K is the most investigated HERV. HERV-W (syncytin-1) is the second-most investigated, while other HERVs have received less attention. From a therapeutic perspective, HERV-K and HERV-E are the only HERVs with experimental demonstration of effective targeted therapies, but unspecific approaches using antiviral and demethylating agents in combination with chemo- and immunotherapies have also been investigated.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)1330
Publication statusPublished - 2022

    Research areas

  • Animals, Antibody Formation/immunology, Endogenous Retroviruses/immunology, Host-Pathogen Interactions/immunology, Humans, Neoplasms/immunology, Retroviridae Infections/immunology, Viral Proteins/immunology

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