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1.  Murine Endogenous Retrovirus MuERV-L Is the Progenitor of the “Orphan” Epsilon Viruslike Particles of the Early Mouse Embryo▿  
Journal of Virology  2007;82(3):1622-1625.
Viruslike particles which displayed a peculiar wheellike appearance that distinguished them from A-, B- or C-type particles had previously been described in the early mouse embryo. The maximum expression of these so-called epsilon particles was observed in two-cell-stage embryos, followed by their rapid decline at later stages of development and no particles detected at the zygote one-cell stage. Here, we show that these particles are in fact produced by a newly discovered murine endogenous retrovirus (ERV) belonging to the widespread family of mammalian ERV-L elements and named MuERV-L. Using antibodies that we raised against the Gag protein of these elements, Western blot analysis and in toto immunofluorescence studies of the embryos at various stages disclosed the same developmental expression profile as that observed for epsilon particles. Using expression vectors for cloned, full-length, entirely coding MuERV-L copies and cell transfection, direct identification of the epsilon particles was finally achieved by high-resolution electron microscopy.
PMCID: PMC2224431  PMID: 18045933
2.  Comprehensive search for intra- and inter-specific sequence polymorphisms among coding envelope genes of retroviral origin found in the human genome: genes and pseudogenes 
BMC Genomics  2005;6:117.
The human genome carries a high load of proviral-like sequences, called Human Endogenous Retroviruses (HERVs), which are the genomic traces of ancient infections by active retroviruses. These elements are in most cases defective, but open reading frames can still be found for the retroviral envelope gene, with sixteen such genes identified so far. Several of them are conserved during primate evolution, having possibly been co-opted by their host for a physiological role.
To characterize further their status, we presently sequenced 12 of these genes from a panel of 91 Caucasian individuals. Genomic analyses reveal strong sequence conservation (only two non synonymous Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms [SNPs]) for the two HERV-W and HERV-FRD envelope genes, i.e. for the two genes specifically expressed in the placenta and possibly involved in syncytiotrophoblast formation. We further show – using an ex vivo fusion assay for each allelic form – that none of these SNPs impairs the fusogenic function. The other envelope proteins disclose variable polymorphisms, with the occurrence of a stop codon and/or frameshift for most – but not all – of them. Moreover, the sequence conservation analysis of the orthologous genes that can be found in primates shows that three env genes have been maintained in a fully coding state throughout evolution including envW and envFRD.
Altogether, the present study strongly suggests that some but not all envelope encoding sequences are bona fide genes. It also provides new tools to elucidate the possible role of endogenous envelope proteins as susceptibility factors in a number of pathologies where HERVs have been suspected to be involved.
PMCID: PMC1236922  PMID: 16150157
3.  Functional characterization of two newly identified Human Endogenous Retrovirus coding envelope genes 
Retrovirology  2005;2:19.
A recent in silico search for coding sequences of retroviral origin present in the human genome has unraveled two new envelope genes that add to the 16 genes previously identified. A systematic search among the latter for a fusogenic activity had led to the identification of two bona fide genes, named syncytin-1 and syncytin-2, most probably co-opted by primate genomes for a placental function related to the formation of the syncytiotrophoblast by cell-cell fusion. Here, we show that one of the newly identified envelope gene, named envP(b), is fusogenic in an ex vivo assay, but that its expression – as quantified by real-time RT-PCR on a large panel of human tissues – is ubiquitous, albeit with a rather low value in most tissues. Conversely, the second envelope gene, named envV, discloses a placenta-specific expression, but is not fusogenic in any of the cells tested. Altogether, these results suggest that at least one of these env genes may play a role in placentation, but most probably through a process different from that of the two previously identified syncytins.
PMCID: PMC555746  PMID: 15766379
4.  Survey of Human Genes of Retroviral Origin: Identification and Transcriptome of the Genes with Coding Capacity for Complete Envelope Proteins 
Journal of Virology  2003;77(19):10414-10422.
Sequences of retroviral origin occupy approximately 8% of the human genome. Most of these “retroviral” genes have lost their coding capacities since their entry into our ancestral genome millions of years ago, but some reading frames have remained open, suggesting positive selection. The complete sequencing of the human genome allowed a systematic search for retroviral envelope genes containing an open reading frame and resulted in the identification of 16 genes that we have characterized. We further showed, by quantitative reverse transcriptase PCR using specifically devised primers which discriminate between coding and noncoding elements, that all 16 genes are expressed in at least some healthy human tissues, albeit at highly different levels. All envelope genes disclose significant expression in the testis, three of them have a very high level of expression in the placenta, and a fourth is expressed in the thyroid. Besides their primary role as key molecules for viral entry, the envelope genes of retroviruses can induce cell-cell fusion, elicit immunosuppressive effects, and even protect against infection, and as such, endogenous retroviral envelope proteins have been tentatively identified in several reports as being involved in both normal and pathological processes. The present study provides a comprehensive survey of candidate genes and tools for a precise evaluation of their involvement in these processes.
PMCID: PMC228468  PMID: 12970426
5.  Physiological Knockout of the Envelope Gene of the Single-Copy ERV-3 Human Endogenous Retrovirus in a Fraction of the Caucasian Population 
Journal of Virology  1998;72(4):3442-3445.
ERV-3 is an evolutionarily conserved single-copy human endogenous retrovirus with a coding envelope gene potentially involved in important placental functions. We have investigated the sequence variability of this gene among 150 unrelated Caucasian individuals and found eight polymorphic sites. One of them corresponds to the introduction of a stop codon resulting in the production of a severely truncated ERV-3 envelope protein lacking both the fusion peptide and the immunosuppressive domain of the protein. The stop codon is observed in a homozygous state in approximately 1% of Caucasian individuals without evidence for counterselection, thus precluding the involvement of any essential function of the gene in placental implantation and development. This natural knockout provides a mean to investigate other potential roles for this otherwise highly conserved gene.
PMCID: PMC109847  PMID: 9525678

Results 1-5 (5)