Epigenetic regulation of transcription and splicing of syncytins, fusogenic glycoproteins of retroviral origin.
ABSTRACT: Syncytin-1 and -2, human fusogenic glycoproteins encoded by the env genes of the endogenous retroviral loci ERVWE1 and ERVFRDE1, respectively, contribute to the differentiation of multinucleated syncytiotrophoblast in chorionic villi. In non-trophoblastic cells, however, the expression of syncytins has to be suppressed to avoid potential pathogenic effects. We studied the epigenetic suppression of ERVWE1 and ERVFRDE1 5'-long terminal repeats by DNA methylation and chromatin modifications. Immunoprecipitation of the provirus-associated chromatin revealed the H3K9 trimethylation at transcriptionally inactivated syncytins in HeLa cells. qRT-PCR analysis of non-spliced ERVWE1 and ERVFRDE1 mRNAs and respective env mRNAs detected efficient splicing of endogenously expressed RNAs in trophoblastic but not in non-placental cells. Pointing to the pathogenic potential of aberrantly expressed syncytin-1, we have found deregulation of transcription and splicing of the ERVWE1 in biopsies of testicular seminomas. Finally, ectopic expression experiments suggest the importance of proper chromatin context for the ERVWE1 splicing. Our results thus demonstrate that cell-specific retroviral splicing represents an additional epigenetic level controling the expression of endogenous retroviruses.
Project description:Syncytins are fusogenic envelope (env) genes of retroviral origin that have been captured for a function in placentation. Syncytins have been identified in Euarchontoglires (primates, rodents, Leporidae) and Laurasiatheria (Carnivora, ruminants) placental mammals. Here, we searched for similar genes in species that retained characteristic features of primitive mammals, namely the Malagasy and mainland African Tenrecidae. They belong to the superorder Afrotheria, an early lineage that diverged from Euarchotonglires and Laurasiatheria 100 Mya, during the Cretaceous terrestrial revolution. An in silico search for env genes with full coding capacity within a Tenrecidae genome identified several candidates, with one displaying placenta-specific expression as revealed by RT-PCR analysis of a large panel of Setifer setosus tissues. Cloning of this endogenous retroviral env gene demonstrated fusogenicity in an ex vivo cell-cell fusion assay on a panel of mammalian cells. Refined analysis of placental architecture and ultrastructure combined with in situ hybridization demonstrated specific expression of the gene in multinucleate cellular masses and layers at the materno-fetal interface, consistent with a role in syncytium formation. This gene, which we named "syncytin-Ten1," is conserved among Tenrecidae, with evidence of purifying selection and conservation of fusogenic activity. To our knowledge, it is the first syncytin identified to date within the ancestrally diverged Afrotheria superorder.
Project description:Endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) are proviral phases of exogenous retroviruses that have co-evolved with vertebrate genomes for millions of years. Previous studies have identified the envelope (env) protein genes of retroviral origin preferentially expressed in the placenta which suggests a role in placentation based on their membrane fusogenic capacity and therefore they have been named syncytins. Until now, all the characterized syncytins have been associated with three invasive placentation types: the endotheliochorial (Carnivora), the synepitheliochorial (Ruminantia), and the hemochorial placentation (human, mouse) where they play a role in the syncytiotrophoblast formation. The purpose of the present study was to evaluate whether EqERV env RNA is expressed in horse tissues as well and investigate if the horse, possessing an epitheliochorial placenta, has "captured" a common retroviral env gene with syncytin-like properties in placental tissues. Interestingly, although in the equine placenta there is no syncytiotrophoblast layer at the maternal-fetal interface, our results showed that EqERV env RNA is highly expressed at that level, as expected for a candidate syncytin-like gene but with reduced abundance in the other somatic tissues (nearly 30-fold lower) thus suggesting a possible role in the placental tissue. Although the horse is one of the few domestic animals with a sequenced genome, few studies have been conducted about the EqERV and their expression in placental tissue has never been investigated.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Syncytins are envelope genes of retroviral origin that have been co-opted by the host to mediate a specialized function in placentation. Two of these genes have already been identified in primates, as well as two distinct, non orthologous genes in rodents. RESULTS: Here we identified within the rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus-which belongs to the lagomorpha order- an envelope (env) gene of retroviral origin with the characteristic features of a bona fide syncytin, that we named syncytin-Ory1. An in silico search for full-length env genes with an uninterrupted open reading frame within the rabbit genome first identified two candidate genes that were tested for their specific expression in the placenta by quantitative RT-PCR of RNA isolated from a large set of tissues. This resulted in the identification of an env gene with placenta-specific expression and belonging to a family of endogenous retroelements present at a limited copy number in the rabbit genome. Functional characterization of the identified placenta-expressed env gene after cloning in a CMV-driven expression vector and transient transfection experiments, demonstrated both fusogenic activity in an ex vivo cell-cell fusion assay and infectivity of pseudotypes. The receptor for the rabbit syncytin-Ory1 was found to be the same as that for human syncytin-1, i.e. the previously identified ASCT2 transporter. This was demonstrated by a co-culture fusion assay between hamster A23 cells transduced with an expression vector for ASCT2 and A23 cells transduced with syncytin-Ory1. Finally, in situ hybridization of rabbit placenta sections with a syncytin-Ory1 probe revealed specific expression at the level of the junctional zone between the placental lobe and the maternal decidua, where the invading syncytial fetal tissue contacts the maternal decidua to form the labyrinth, consistent with a role in the formation of the syncytiotrophoblast. The syncytin-Ory1 gene is found in Leporidae but not in Ochotonidae, and should therefore have entered the lagomorpha order 12-30 million years ago. CONCLUSION: The identification of a novel syncytin gene within a third order of mammals displaying syncytiotrophoblast formation during placentation strongly supports the notion that on several occasions retroviral infections have resulted in the independent capture of genes that have been positively selected for a convergent physiological role.
Project description:We have previously demonstrated that the envelope proteins of a murine and primate retrovirus are immunosuppressive in vivo. This property was manifested by the ability of the proteins, when expressed by allogeneic tumor cells normally rejected by engrafted mice, to have the env-expressing cells escape (at least transiently) immune rejection. Here, we analyzed the immunosuppressive activity of the human and murine syncytins. These are envelope genes from endogenous retroviruses independently coopted by ancestral hosts, conserved in evolution, specifically expressed in the placenta, and with a cell-cell fusogenic activity likely contributing to placenta morphogenesis. We show that in both humans and mice, one of the two syncytins (human syncytin-2 and mouse syncytin-B) is immunosuppressive and, rather unexpectedly, the other (human syncytin-1 and mouse syncytin-A) is not (albeit able to induce cell-cell fusion). Delineation of the immunosuppressive domain by deletion analysis, combined with a comparison between immunosuppressive and nonimmunosuppressive sequences, allowed us to derive a mutation rule targeted to specific amino acids, resulting in selective switch from immunosuppressive to nonimmunosuppressive envelope proteins and vice versa. These results unravel a critical function of retroviral envelopes, not necessarily "individually" selected for in the retrovirus endogenization process, albeit "tandemly" conserved in evolution for the syncytin pairs in primates and Muridae. Selective inactivation of immunosuppression, under conditions not affecting fusogenicity, should be important for understanding the role of this function in placental physiology and maternofetal tolerance.
Project description:The pathomechanism of mycosis fungoides (MF), the most common type of primary cutaneous T-cell lymphomas (CTCLs) and a malignancy of non-recirculating, skin-resident T-cells, is unknown albeit underlying viral infections have been sought for. Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) are ancient retroviral sequences in the human genome and their transcription is often deregulated in cancers. We explored the transcriptional activity of HERV sequences in a total of 34 samples comprising MF and psoriasis skin lesions, as well as corresponding non-malignant skin using a retrovirus-specific microarray and quantitative RT-PCR. To identify active HERV-W loci, we cloned the HERV-W specific RT-PCR products, sequenced the cDNA clones and assigned the sequences to HERV-W loci. Finally, we used immunohistochemistry on MF patient and non-malignant inflammatory skin samples to confirm specific HERV-encoded protein expression. Firstly, a distinct, skin-specific transcription profile consisting of five constitutively active HERV groups was established. Although individual variability was common, HERV-W showed significantly increased transcription in MF lesions compared to clinically intact skin from the same patient. Predominantly transcribed HERV-W loci were found to be located in chromosomes 6q21 and 7q21.2, chromosomal regions typically altered in CTCL. Surprisingly, we also found the expression of 7q21.2/ERVWE1-encoded Syncytin-1 (Env) protein in MF biopsies and expression of Syncytin-1 was seen in malignant lymphocytes, especially in the epidermotropic ones, in 15 of 30 cases studied. Most importantly, no Syncytin-1 expression was detected in inflammatory dermatosis (Lichen ruber planus) with skin-homing, non-malignant T lymphocytes. The expression of ERVWE1 mRNA was further confirmed in 3/7 MF lesions analyzed. Our observations strengthen the association between activated HERVs and cancer. The study offers a new perspective into the pathogenesis of CTCL since we demonstrate that differences in HERV-W transcription levels between lesional MF and non-malignant skin are significant, and that ERVWE1-encoded Syncytin-1 is expressed in MF lymphoma cells.
Project description:The retroviral envelope-derived proteins syncytin-1 and syncytin-2 (syn1 and syn2) drive placentation in humans by forming a syncytiotophoblast, a structure allowing for an exchange interface between maternal and fetal blood during pregnancy. Despite their essential role, little is known about the molecular mechanism underlying the syncytins' function. We report here the X-ray structures of the syn1 and syn2 transmembrane subunit ectodomains, featuring a 6-helix bundle (6HB) typical of the post-fusion state of gamma-retrovirus and filovirus fusion proteins. Contrary to the filoviruses, for which the fusion glycoprotein was crystallized both in the post-fusion and in the spring-loaded pre-fusion form, the highly unstable nature of the syncytins' prefusion form has precluded structural studies. We undertook a proline-scanning approach searching for regions in the syn1 6HB central helix that tolerate the introduction of helix-breaker residues and still fold correctly in the pre-fusion form. We found that there is indeed such a region, located two ?-helical turns downstream a stutter in the central coiled-coil helix - precisely where the breaks of the spring-loaded helix of the filoviruses map. These mutants were fusion-inactive as they cannot form the 6HB, similar to the "SOSIP" mutant of HIV Env that allowed the high-resolution structural characterization of its labile pre-fusion form. These results now open a new window of opportunity to engineer more stable variants of the elusive pre-fusion trimer of the syncytins and other gamma-retroviruses envelope proteins for structural characterization.
Project description:The definitive demonstration of a role for a recently acquired gene is a difficult task, requiring exhaustive genetic investigations and functional analysis. The situation is indeed much more complicated when facing multicopy gene families, because most or portions of the gene are conserved among the hundred copies of the family. This is the case for the ERVWE1 locus of the human endogenous retrovirus W family (HERV-W), which encodes an envelope glycoprotein (syncytin) likely involved in trophoblast differentiation. Here we describe, in 155 individuals, the positional conservation of this locus and the preservation of the envelope ORF. Sequencing of the critical elements of the ERVWE1 provirus showed a striking conservation among the 48 alleles of 24 individuals, including the LTR elements involved in the transcriptional machinery, the splice sites involved in the maturation of subgenomic Env mRNA, and the Env ORF. The functionality and tissue specificity of the 5' LTR were demonstrated, as well as the fusogenic activity of the envelope polymorphic variants. Such functions were also shown to be preserved in the orthologous loci isolated from chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan, and gibbon. This functional preservation among humans and during evolution strongly argued for the involvement of this recently acquired retroviral envelope glycoprotein in hominoid placental physiology.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Multiple sclerosis-associated retrovirus (MSRV) RNA sequences have been detected in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) and are related to the multi-copy human endogenous retrovirus family type W (HERV-W). Only one HERV-W locus (ERVWE1) codes for a complete HERV-W Env protein (Syncytin-1). Syncytin-1 and the putative MSRV Env protein have been involved in the pathogenesis of MS. The origin of MSRV and its precise relation to HERV-W were hitherto unknown. RESULTS: By mapping HERV-W env cDNA sequences (n = 332) from peripheral blood mononuclear cells of patients with MS and healthy controls onto individual genomic HERV-W env elements, we identified seven transcribed HERV-W env loci in these cells, including ERVWE1. Transcriptional activity of individual HERV-W env elements did not significantly differ between patients with MS and controls. Remarkably, almost 30% of HERV-W env cDNAs were recombined sequences that most likely arose in vitro between transcripts from different HERV-W env elements. Re-analysis of published MSRV env sequences revealed that all of them can be explained as originating from genomic HERV-W env loci or recombinations among them. In particular, a MSRV env clone previously used for the generation of monoclonal antibody 6A2B2, detecting an antigen in MS brain lesions, appears to be derived from a HERV-W env locus on chromosome Xq22.3. This locus harbors a long open reading frame for an N-terminally truncated HERV-W Env protein. CONCLUSION: Our data clarify the origin of MSRV env sequences, have important implications for the status of MSRV, and open the possibility that a protein encoded by a HERV-W env element on chromosome Xq22.3 may be expressed in MS brain lesions.
Project description:Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) of the HERV-W group comprise hundreds of loci in the human genome. Deregulated HERV-W expression and HERV-W locus ERVWE1-encoded Syncytin-1 protein have been implicated in the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis (MS). However, the actual transcription of HERV-W loci in the MS context has not been comprehensively analyzed. We investigated transcription of HERV-W in MS brain lesions and white matter brain tissue from healthy controls by employing next-generation amplicon sequencing of HERV-W env-specific reverse transcriptase (RT) PCR products, thus revealing transcribed HERV-W loci and the relative transcript levels of those loci. We identified more than 100 HERV-W loci that were transcribed in the human brain, with a limited number of loci being predominantly transcribed. Importantly, relative transcript levels of HERV-W loci were very similar between MS and healthy brain tissue samples, refuting deregulated transcription of HERV-W env in MS brain lesions, including the high-level-transcribed ERVWE1 locus encoding Syncytin-1. Quantitative RT-PCR likewise did not reveal differences in MS regarding HERV-W env general transcript or ERVWE1- and ERVWE2-specific transcript levels. However, we obtained evidence for interindividual differences in HERV-W transcript levels. Reporter gene assays indicated promoter activity of many HERV-W long terminal repeats (LTRs), including structurally incomplete LTRs. Our comprehensive analysis of HERV-W transcription in the human brain thus provides important information on the biology of HERV-W in MS lesions and normal human brain, implications for study design, and mechanisms by which HERV-W may (or may not) be involved in MS.
Project description:Syncytins are genes of retroviral origin captured by eutherian mammals, with a role in placentation. Here we show that some marsupials-which are the closest living relatives to eutherian mammals, although they diverged from the latter ?190 Mya-also possess a syncytin gene. The gene identified in the South American marsupial opossum and dubbed syncytin-Opo1 has all of the characteristic features of a bona fide syncytin gene: It is fusogenic in an ex vivo cell-cell fusion assay; it is specifically expressed in the short-lived placenta at the level of the syncytial feto-maternal interface; and it is conserved in a functional state in a series of Monodelphis species. We further identify a nonfusogenic retroviral envelope gene that has been conserved for >80 My of evolution among all marsupials (including the opossum and the Australian tammar wallaby), with evidence for purifying selection and conservation of a canonical immunosuppressive domain, but with only limited expression in the placenta. This unusual captured gene, together with a third class of envelope genes from recently endogenized retroviruses-displaying strong expression in the uterine glands where retroviral particles can be detected-plausibly correspond to the different evolutionary statuses of a captured retroviral envelope gene, with only syncytin-Opo1 being the present-day bona fide syncytin active in the opossum and related species. This study would accordingly recapitulate the natural history of syncytin exaptation and evolution in a single species, and definitely extends the presence of such genes to all major placental mammalian clades.