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Evidence for replication of human endogenous retroviruses type-K (HERV-K) in HIV-1 positive patients


The infectious capacity of particle-coding human endogenous retrovirus type-K HERV-K(HML-2) virions is still questionable.

Materials and methods

The full-length RNA env gene, necessary for cell-to-cell transmission, was amplified from plasma samples (three time-points) of six HIV-1 seropositive individuals and sequenced in order to track the phylogenetic evolution of HERV-K.


Type-1 and Type-2 HERV-K(HML-2) were co-amplified. Phylogenetic analyses revealed frequent detection of inter and intra-subtype HERV-K(HML-2) recombinant env sequences. Type-1 but not type-2 env sequences were mostly edited at specific sites, originating a unique hypermutated consensus sequence (K111), which cluster in a unique phylogenetic branch. HERV-K sequences less than 98% similar to known proviruses suggest that these proviruses are unfixed. dN/dS ratios < 1 strongly suggested that HERV-K replicated by reinfection, which may explain the finding of putative HERV-K recombinant and hypermutated sequences.


Our data suggest that the HERV-K(HML-2) family code for infectious viral particles. RNA recombination could serve to efficiently remove mutated HERV-K alleles by combining intact parts of different genomes

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Open Access This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Contreras-Galindo, R., Contreras-Galindo, A., Lorenzo, E. et al. Evidence for replication of human endogenous retroviruses type-K (HERV-K) in HIV-1 positive patients. Retrovirology 3 (Suppl 1), S33 (2006).

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