A group of scientists in Sweden recently discovered a mechanism through which retroviruses may be impacting gene expression in humans. 10% of the entire genome is believed to be composed of retroviruses, which are believed to have incorporated themselves about 35-45 million years ago.
The group in Sweden looks solely into endogenous retroviruses (ERV), which can be found in “junk-DNA”---DNA that was previously considered to be unimportant. By studying more into these, the researchers believe that some of the retroviruses work as “docking platforms for the protein TRIM28, which is a protein that can “switch off” viruses and genes adjacent ot the DNA helix. This mechanism of switching off genes may possibly be linked to a number of neurological diseases. In individuals with diseases such as ALS, schizophrenia and bipolar, their regulation of ERV deviates from the norm.
WHile studies have shown that ERV plays a regulatory role in neurons, the study that showed this was conducted on mice because with retroviruses, many have only incorporated into humans and gorillas--meaning that mice may not have the same amount of viruses or significance of them in their genome. Therefore, more work will be done to evaluate this significance.
-Jeanette Rios (‘18)