Downey, R. F., Sullivan, F. J., Wang-Johanning, F., Ambs, S., Giles, F. J., & Glynn, S. A. (2015). Human endogenous retrovirus K and cancer: Innocent bystander or tumorigenic accomplice? International Journal of Cancer, 137(6), 1249-1257. doi:10.1002/ijc.29003
Harbored as relics of ancient germline infections, human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) now constitute up to 8% of our genome. A proportion of this sequence has been co-opted for molecular and cellular processes, beneficial to human physiology, such as the fusogenic activity of the envelope protein, a vital component of placentogenesis. However, the discovery of high levels of HERV-K mRNA and protein and even virions in a wide array of cancers has revealed that HERV-K may be playing a more sinister role-a role as an etiological agent in cancer itself. Whether the presence of this retroviral material is simply an epiphenomenon, or an actual causative factor, is a hotly debated topic. This review will summarize the current state of knowledge regarding HERV-K and cancer and attempt to outline the potential mechanisms by which HERV-K could be involved in the onset and promotion of carcinogenesis.