Human endogenous retrovirus HERV-K(HML-2)envexpression is not associated with markers of immunosenescence

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Ageing of the human immune system, or immunosenescence, is characterised by distinct changes in the proportion of the various cell types, e.g., increase of the CD14 + monocytic cells, decrease of CD19 + B lymphocytes, and changes in T cell subpopulations, namely increase of CD4 + and CD8 + cells which have lost the costimulatory CD28 antigen. Currently, it is believed that the lifelong antigenic burden may be one of the inducers of immunosenescence. Thus far, only one exogenous stimulus, cytomegalovirus infection, has shown to be a major factor in this respect. To find other possible candidates, we evaluated the role of the evolutionary youngest group of human endogenous retroviruses, namely HERV-K(HML-2), on immunosenescence. HERVs exist in the genome as proviruses, but their activation has been detected in several immunopathologic conditions. The expression of HERV-K(HML-2) env was observed to be lower in the peripheral blood mononuclear cells of nonagenarians (n = 61) than in those of young controls (n = 37). These mRNA levels did not correlate with the age-associated differences in the proportions of CD14 +, CD4 + CD28 − and CD8 + CD28 − cells, but in the case of CD19 + B cells a strong positive correlation was observed in the nonagenarians. Thus, these data suggest that HERVs do not function as antigenic drivers of immunosenescence. On the contrary, expression of HERV-K(HML-2) env is associated with more youthful levels of B cells.

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