Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) and disease

HERVs comprise 8 per cent of the human genome and can be transmitted vertically to offspring. HERVs are normally inactivated by mutations rendering them non-infectious or remain silent due to epigenetic mechanisms.

Some HERV genes have been co-opted by the host in a process called exaptation, and are expressed in tissues such as placenta and have a role in host biological processes.

In addition to having a beneficial function, HERVs can also have detrimental effects on the host. In this regard, there are reports of high-level expression of certain endogenous retroviruses in pathological conditions including viral infections (e.g. HIV) and in cancers such as lymphoma, breast and colon.

Although it is unclear whether HERV expression is a trigger or marker of the pathological state, recent findings indicate that the level of HERV expression is indicative of disease severity and progression. Identifying an association between HERV expression and disease severity and/or progression could potentially inform diagnosis and treatment.

In Australia, 20,000 new cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed and nearly 3,300 men die from prostate cancer each year. However, good biomarkers to predict disease severity are needed to inform treatment strategies. In this study we are evaluating whether HERVs could be exploited as a biomarker for disease and/or immune based therapies to target cancer.




  • John Pedersen, TissuPath
  • John Mills, TissuPath


CG 0710 Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia Concept Grant XMRV in Australian Prostate Cancer.

Contact Details

For any general enquiries relating to this project, please contact:

Professor Gilda Tachedjian

Head of Life Sciences; Head of Tachedjian Laboratory (Retroviral Biology and Antivirals)