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Front. Immunol. | doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2019.01339

The exaptation of HERV-H: evolutionary analyses reveal the genomic features of highly transcribed elements

  • 1University of Oxford, United Kingdom

HERV-H endogenous retroviruses are thought to be essential to stem cell identity in humans. We embrace several decades of HERV-H research in order to relate the transcription of HERV-H loci to their genomic structure. We find that highly transcribed HERV-H loci are younger, more fragmented, and less likely to be present in other primate genomes. We also show that repeats in HERV-H LTRs are correlated to where loci are transcribed: type-I LTRs associate with stem cells while type-II repeats associate with embryonic cells. Our findings are generally in line with what is known about endogenous retrovirus biology but we find that the presence of the zinc finger motif containing region of gag is positively correlated with transcription. This leads us to suggest a possible explanation for why an unusually large proportion of HERV-H loci have been preserved in non solo-LTR form.

Keywords: HERV-H, endogenous retrovirus, transcription, stem cell, Exaptation

Received: 05 Jul 2018; Accepted: 28 May 2019.

Edited by:

Tara P. Hurst, Abcam (United Kingdom), United Kingdom

Reviewed by:

Martin S. Staege, Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, Germany
Nicole Grandi, University of Cagliari, Italy  

Copyright: © 2019 Gemmell, Hein and Katzourakis. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Aris Katzourakis, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom, a.katzourakis@gmail.com