Human endogenous retroviruses in neurologic disease

Endogenous retroviruses are pathogenic – in other species than the human. Disease associations for Human Endogenous RetroViruses (HERVs) are emerging, but so far an unequivocal pathogenetic cause-effect relationship has not been established. A role for HERVs has been proposed in neurological and neuropsychiatric diseases as diverse as multiple sclerosis (MS) and schizophrenia (SCZ). Particularly for MS, many aspects of the activation and involvement of specific HERV families (HERV-H/F and HERV-W/MSRV) have been reported, both for cells in the circulation and in the central nervous system. Notably envelope genes and their gene products (Envs) appear strongly associated with the disease. For SCZ, for ALS, and for HIV-associated dementia (HAD), indications are accumulating for involvement of the HERV-K family, and also HERV-H/F and/or HERV-W. Activation is reasonably a prerequisite for causality as most HERV sequences remain quiescent in non-pathological conditions, so the importance of regulatory pathways and epigenetics involved in regulating HERV activation, derepression, and also involvement of retroviral restriction factors, is emerging. HERV-directed antiretrovirals have potential as novel therapeutic paradigms in neurologic disease, particularly in MS. The possible protective or ameliorative effects of antiretroviral therapy in MS are substantiated by reports that treatment of HIV infection may be associated with a significantly decreased risk of MS. Further studies of HERVs, their role in neurologic diseases, and their potential as therapeutic targets are essential.
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