Human Endogenous Retrovirus K Rec forms a regulatory loop with MITF that opposes the progression of melanoma to an invasive stage
The HML2 subfamily of HERV-K (henceforth HERV-K) represents the most recently endogenized retrovirus in the human genome. While the products of certain HERV-K genomic copies are expressed in normal tissues, they are upregulated in a number of pathological conditions, including various tumours. It remains unclear whether HERV-K(HML2)-encoded products overexpressed in cancer contribute to disease progression or are merely by-products of tumorigenesis. Here, we focus on the regulatory activities of the Long Terminal Repeats (LTR5\_Hs) of HERV-K and on the potential role of the HERV-K-encoded Rec in melanoma. Our regulatory genomics analysis of LTR5\_Hs loci indicates that Melanocyte Inducing Transcription Factor (MITF) binds to a canonical E-box motif (CA(C/T)GTG) within these elements in proliferative type of melanoma, and that depletion of MITF results in reduced HERV-K expression. In turn, experimentally depleting Rec in a proliferative melanoma cell line leads to lower mRNA levels of MITF and its predicted target genes. Furthermore, Rec knockdown leads to an upregulation of epithelial-to-mesenchymal associated genes and to an enhanced invasion phenotype of proliferative melanoma cells. Together these results suggest the existence of a regulatory loop between MITF and Rec that may modulate the transition from proliferative to invasive stages of melanoma. Because HERV-K(HML2) elements are restricted to hominoid primates, these findings might explain certain species-specific features of melanoma progression and point to some limitations of animal models in melanoma studies. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.
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