Characterization of the human endogenous retrovirus K Gag protein: identification of protease cleavage sites
Human endogenous retrovirus (HERV) sequences represent about 0.5% of the human genome. The only HERV known to express virus particles is human teratocarcinoma-derived virus (HTDV), which is now termed HTDV/HERV-K. Between 25 and 50 different copies of HERV-K are present in the human genome, three of which contain full-length genes for viral structural proteins. To determine whether genes of different HERV-K proviruses can be expressed, the morphologies and protein expression patterns of HTDV/HERV-K produced by various human teratocarcinoma cell lines were compared. Three different types of retrovirus-like particles were observed, showing differences in the presence of viral surface proteins and the existence of free mature virions. These distinct morphological features between virion types were in accordance with the results of immunoblotting analyses that revealed differences in the cleavage of a viral Gag protein precursor and the presence of a putative Env protein. These data suggest that different HERV-K proviruses are transcribed in human teratocarcinoma cell lines.