HIV-1 interacts with human endogenous retrovirus K (HML-2) envelopes derived from human primary lymphocytes.
Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) are viruses that have colonized the germ line and spread through vertical passage. Only the more recently acquired HERVs, such as the HERV-K (HML-2) group, maintain coding open reading frames. Expression of HERV-Ks has been linked to different pathological conditions, including HIV infection, but our knowledge on which specific HERV-Ks are expressed in primary lymphocytes currently is very limited. To identify the most expressed HERV-Ks in an unbiased manner, we analyzed their expression patterns in peripheral blood lymphocytes using Pacific Biosciences (PacBio) single-molecule real-time (SMRT) sequencing. We observe that three HERV-Ks (KII, K102, and K18) constitute over 90% of the total HERV-K expression in primary human lymphocytes of five different donors. We also show experimentally that two of these HERV-K env sequences (K18 and K102) retain their ability to produce full-length and posttranslationally processed envelope proteins in cell culture. We show that HERV-K18 Env can be incorporated into HIV-1 but not simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) particles. Moreover, HERV-K18 Env incorporation into HIV-1 virions is dependent on HIV-1 matrix. Taken together, we generated high-resolution HERV-K expression profiles specific for activated human lymphocytes. We found that one of the most abundantly expressed HERV-K envelopes not only makes a full-length protein but also specifically interacts with HIV-1. Our findings raise the possibility that these endogenous retroviral Env proteins could directly influence HIV-1 replication.Here, we report the HERV-K expression profile of primary lymphocytes from 5 different healthy donors. We used a novel deep-sequencing technology (PacBio SMRT) that produces the long reads necessary to discriminate the complexity of HERV-K expression. We find that primary lymphocytes express up to 32 different HERV-K envelopes, and that at least two of the most expressed Env proteins retain their ability to make a protein. Importantly, one of them, the envelope glycoprotein of HERV-K18, is incorporated into HIV-1 in an HIV matrix-specific fashion. The ramifications of such interactions are discussed, as the possibility of HIV-1 target tissue broadening and immune evasion are considered.