Captured retroviral envelope syncytin gene associated with the unique placental structure of higher ruminants.
ABSTRACT: Syncytins are envelope genes of retroviral origin that have been co-opted for a role in placentation and likely contribute to the remarkable diversity of placental structures. Independent capture events have been identified in primates, rodents, lagomorphs, and carnivores, where they are involved in the formation of a syncytium layer at the fetomaternal interface via trophoblast cell-cell fusion. We searched for similar genes within the suborder Ruminantia where the placenta lacks an extended syncytium layer but displays a heterologous cell-fusion process unique among eutherian mammals. An in silico search for intact envelope genes within the Bos taurus genome identified 18 candidates belonging to five endogenous retrovirus families, with one gene displaying both placenta-specific expression, as assessed by quantitative RT-PCR analyses of a large panel of tissues, and conservation in the Ovis aries genome. Both the bovine and ovine orthologs displayed fusogenic activity by conferring infectivity on retroviral pseudotypes and triggering cell-cell fusion. In situ hybridization of placenta sections revealed specific expression in the trophoblast binucleate cells, consistent with a role in the formation--by heterologous cell fusion with uterine cells--of the trinucleate cells of the cow and the syncytial plaques of the ewe. Finally, we show that this gene, which we named "Syncytin-Rum1," is conserved among 16 representatives of higher ruminants, with evidence for purifying selection and conservation of its fusogenic properties, over 30 millions years of evolution. These data argue for syncytins being a major driving force in the emergence and diversity of the placenta.
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:While common in viral infections and neoplasia, spontaneous cell-cell fusion, or syncytialization, is quite restricted in healthy tissues. Such fusion is essential to human placental development, where interactions between trophoblast-specific human endogenous retroviral (HERV) envelope proteins, called syncytins, and their widely-distributed cell surface receptors are centrally involved. We have identified the first host cell-encoded protein that inhibits cell fusion in mammals. Like the syncytins, this protein, called suppressyn, is HERV-derived, placenta-specific and well-conserved over simian evolution. In vitro, suppressyn binds to the syn1 receptor and inhibits syn1-, but not syn2-mediated trophoblast syncytialization. Suppressyn knock-down promotes cell-cell fusion in trophoblast cells and cell-associated and secreted suppressyn binds to the syn1 receptor, ASCT2. Identification of the first host cell-encoded inhibitor of mammalian cell fusion may encourage improved understanding of cell fusion mechanisms, of placental morphogenesis and of diseases resulting from abnormal cell fusion.
Project description:Syncytins are envelope genes of retroviral origin that have been co-opted for a role in placentation. They promote cell-cell fusion and are involved in the formation of a syncytium layer--the syncytiotrophoblast--at the materno-fetal interface. They were captured independently in eutherian mammals, and knockout mice demonstrated that they are absolutely required for placenta formation and embryo survival. Here we provide evidence that these "necessary" genes acquired "by chance" have a definite lifetime with diverse fates depending on the animal lineage, being both gained and lost in the course of evolution. Analysis of a retroviral envelope gene, the envV gene, present in primate genomes and belonging to the endogenous retrovirus type V (ERV-V) provirus, shows that this captured gene, which entered the primate lineage >45 million years ago, behaves as a syncytin in Old World monkeys, but lost its canonical fusogenic activity in other primate lineages, including humans. In the Old World monkeys, we show--by in situ analyses and ex vivo assays--that envV is both specifically expressed at the level of the placental syncytiotrophoblast and fusogenic, and that it further displays signs of purifying selection based on analysis of non-synonymous to synonymous substitution rates. We further show that purifying selection still operates in the primate lineages where the gene is no longer fusogenic, indicating that degeneracy of this ancestral syncytin is a slow, lineage-dependent, and multi-step process, in which the fusogenic activity would be the first canonical property of this retroviral envelope gene to be lost.
Project description:Syncytin genes are fusogenic envelope protein (env) genes of retroviral origin that have been captured for a function in placentation. Within rodents, two such genes have previously been identified in the mouse-related clade, allowing a demonstration of their essential role via knockout mice. Here, we searched for similar genes in a second major clade of the Rodentia order, the squirrel-related clade, taking advantage of the complete sequencing of the ground squirrel Ictidomys tridecemlineatus genome. In silico search for env genes with full coding capacity identified several candidate genes with one displaying placenta-specific expression, as revealed by quantitative reverse transcription-PCR analysis of a large panel of tissues. This gene belongs to a degenerate endogenous retroviral element, with recognizable hallmarks of an integrated provirus. Cloning of the gene in an expression vector for ex vivo cell-cell fusion and pseudotype assays demonstrated fusogenicity on a large panel of mammalian cells. In situ hybridization on placenta sections showed specific expression in domains where trophoblast cells fuse into a syncytiotrophoblast at the fetomaternal interface, consistent with a role in syncytium formation. Finally, we show that the gene is conserved among the tribe Marmotini, thus dating its capture back to about at least 25 million years ago, with evidence for purifying selection and conservation of fusogenic activity. This gene that we named syncytin-Mar1 is distinct from all seven Syncytin genes identified to date in eutherian mammals and is likely to be a major effector of placentation in its related clade. Importance: Syncytin genes are fusogenic envelope genes of retroviral origin, ancestrally captured for a function in placentation. Within rodents, two such genes had been previously identified in the mouse-related clade. Here, in the squirrel-related rodent clade, we identified the envelope gene of an endogenous retrovirus with all the features of a Syncytin: it is specifically expressed in the placenta of the woodchuck Marmota monax, at the level of cells fusing into a syncytium; it can trigger cell-cell and virus-cell fusion ex vivo; and it has been conserved for >25 million years of evolution, suggesting an essential role in its host physiology. Remarkably, syncytin-Mar1 is unrelated to all other Syncytin genes identified thus far in mammals (primates, muroids, carnivores, and ruminants). These results extend the range of retroviral envelope gene "domestication" in mammals and show that these events occurred independently, on multiple occasions during evolution to improve placental development in a process of convergent evolution.
Project description:In most mammalian species, a critical step of placenta development is the fusion of trophoblast cells into a multinucleated syncytiotrophoblast layer fulfilling essential fetomaternal exchange functions. Key insights into this process came from the discovery of envelope genes of retroviral origin, the syncytins, independently acquired by the human (syncytin-1 and -2), mouse (syncytin-A and -B), and rabbit (syncytin-Ory1) genomes, with fusogenic properties and placenta-specific expression. We previously showed that mouse syncytin-A is essential for the formation of one of the two syncytiotrophoblast layers and for embryo survival. Here, we have generated syncytin-B KO mice and demonstrate that syncytin-B null placenta displays impaired formation of syncytiotrophoblast layer II (ST-II), with evidence of unfused apposed cells, and enlargement of maternal lacunae disrupting the placenta architecture. Unexpectedly, syncytin-B null embryos are viable, with only limited late-onset growth retardation and reduced neonate number. Microarray analyses identified up-regulation of the connexin 30 gene in mutant placentae, with the protein localized at the fetomaternal interface, suggesting gap junction-mediated compensatory mechanisms. Finally, double-KO mice demonstrate premature death of syncytin-A null embryos if syncytin-B is deleted, indicating cooperation between ST-I and ST-II. These findings establish that both endogenous retrovirus-derived syncytin genes contribute independently to the formation of the two syncytiotrophoblast layers during placenta formation, demonstrating a major role of retroviral gene capture, through convergent evolution, to generate multiple placental structures. Although some are absolutely required for completion of pregnancy, others are still amenable to "epigenetic" compensations, thus illustrating the complexity of the molecular machinery that developed during placental evolution.
Project description:Syncytins are envelope genes from endogenous retroviruses, "captured" for a role in placentation. They mediate cell-cell fusion, resulting in the formation of a syncytium (the syncytiotrophoblast) at the fetomaternal interface. These genes have been found in all placental mammals in which they have been searched for. Cell-cell fusion is also pivotal for muscle fiber formation and repair, where the myotubes are formed from the fusion of mononucleated myoblasts into large multinucleated structures. Here we show, taking advantage of mice knocked out for syncytins, that these captured genes contribute to myoblast fusion, with a >20% reduction in muscle mass, mean muscle fiber area and number of nuclei per fiber in knocked out mice for one of the two murine syncytin genes. Remarkably, this reduction is only observed in males, which subsequently show muscle quantitative traits more similar to those of females. In addition, we show that syncytins also contribute to muscle repair after cardiotoxin-induced injury, with again a male-specific effect on the rate and extent of regeneration. Finally, ex vivo experiments carried out on murine myoblasts demonstrate the direct involvement of syncytins in fusion, with a >40% reduction in fusion index upon addition of siRNA against both syncytins. Importantly, similar effects are observed with primary myoblasts from sheep, dog and human, with a 20-40% reduction upon addition of siRNA against the corresponding syncytins. Altogether, these results show a direct contribution of the fusogenic syncytins to myogenesis, with a demonstrated male-dependence of the effect in mice, suggesting that these captured genes could be responsible for the muscle sexual dimorphism observed in placental mammals.
Project description:We recently demonstrated that the product of the HERV-W env gene, a retroviral envelope protein also dubbed syncytin, is a highly fusogenic membrane glycoprotein inducing the formation of syncytia on interaction with the type D mammalian retrovirus receptor. In addition, the detection of HERV-W Env protein (Env-W) expression in placental tissue sections led us to propose a role for this fusogenic glycoprotein in placenta formation. To evaluate this hypothesis, we analyzed the involvement of Env-W in the differentiation of primary cultures of human villous cytotrophoblasts that spontaneously differentiate by cell fusion into syncytiotrophoblasts in vitro. First, we observed that HERV-W env mRNA and glycoprotein expression are colinear with primary cytotrophoblast differentiation and with expression of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), a marker of syncytiotrophoblast formation. Second, we observed that in vitro stimulation of trophoblast cell fusion and differentiation by cyclic AMP is also associated with a concomitant increase in HERV-W env and hCG mRNA and protein expression. Finally, by using specific antisense oligonucleotides, we demonstrated that inhibition of Env-W protein expression leads to a decrease of trophoblast fusion and differentiation, with the secretion of hCG in culture medium of antisense oligonucleotide-treated cells being decreased by fivefold. Taken together, these results strongly support a direct role for Env-W in human trophoblast cell fusion and differentiation.
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:Placental syncytiotrophoblasts formed by the fusion of cytotrophoblasts constitute the interface between maternal and fetal circulations. The syncytium, composed of a continuous layer of syncytiotrophoblasts, assumes the fetal-maternal nutrient exchange, placental barrier, and endocrine functions important for the maintenance of normal pregnancy. Syncytin-1, an endogenous retroviral gene product, mediates the fusion of cytotrophoblasts. While the fusogenic function of syncytin-1 has been well established, little is known regarding its nonfusogenic activities. This study investigates the role of syncytin-1 in trophoblast proliferation. We found that syncytin-1 knockdown significantly inhibited BeWo cell growth and DNA synthesis. Moreover, time course studies on key cell cycle regulators demonstrated an upregulation of p15 and downregulation of CDK4, E2F1, PCNA, and c-Myc, which consequently led to a reduced level of CDK1. These results, together with those from flow cytometry analysis, indicated that syncytin-1 knockdown blocked the G1/S transition phase of the cell cycle. Moreover, syncytin-1 overexpression promoted CHO cell proliferation and led to changes opposite to those observed in syncytin-1 knockdown experiments, confirming the critical role of syncytin-1 for G1/S transition. Thus, syncytin-1, through both nonfusogenic and fusogenic, functions, may co-regulate the input (proliferation) and output (fusion) of the cytotrophoblast "pool". Such co-regulation could be an efficient way to achieve the balance between these two opposing processes, which is required for syncytium homeostasis. Since decreased syncytin-1 expression has been shown to be associated with preeclamptic and hypoxic condition, insufficient replenishing of the cytotrophoblast "pool" may contribute to syncytium deficiency, a critical pathological change frequently found in preeclamptic placentas.
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.