Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) make up 8% of the human genome. The HERV type K (HERV-K) HML-2 (HK2) family contains proviruses that are the most recent entrants into the human germ line and are transcriptionally active. In HIV-1 infection and cancer, HK2 genes produce retroviral particles that appear to be infectious, yet the replication capacity of these viruses and potential pathogenicity has been difficult to ascertain. In this report, we screened the efficacy of commercially available reverse transcriptase inhibitors (RTIs) at inhibiting the enzymatic activity of HK2 RT and HK2 genomic replication. Interestingly, only one provirus, K103, was found to encode a functional RT among those examined. Several nucleoside analogue RTIs (NRTIs) blocked K103 RT activity and consistently inhibited the replication of HK2 genomes. The NRTIs zidovudine (AZT), stavudine (d4T), didanosine (ddI), and lamivudine (3TC), and the nucleotide RTI inhibitor tenofovir (TDF), show efficacy in blocking K103 RT. HIV-1-specific nonnucleoside RTIs (NNRTIs), protease inhibitors (PIs), and integrase inhibitors (IIs) did not affect HK2, except for the NNRTI etravirine (ETV). The inhibition of HK2 infectivity by NRTIs appears to take place at either the reverse transcription step of the viral genome prior to HK2 viral particle formation and/or in the infected cells. Inhibition of HK2 by these drugs will be useful in suppressing HK2 infectivity if these viruses prove to be pathogenic in cancer, neurological disorders, or other diseases associated with HK2. The present studies also elucidate a key aspect of the life cycle of HK2, specifically addressing how they do, and/or did, replicate.
- Reverse transcriptase inhibitors