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Malignancy results from a complex combination of genetic and epigenetic changes, the full effects of which are still largely unknown. Here we summarize current knowledge of the origin, retrotranspositional activity, epigenetic state, and transcription of human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs), and then discuss the potential effects of their deregulation in cancer. Evidence suggests that cancer-associated epigenetic changes most likely underlie potential HERV-mediated effects on genome and transcriptome instability and may play a role in malignancy. Despite our currently limited understanding of the importance of HERVs or other transposable elements in cancer development, we believe that the emerging era of high-throughput sequencing of cancer genomes, epigenomes, and transcriptomes will provide unprecedented opportunities to investigate these roles in the future.

Original publication




Journal article


Semin Cancer Biol

Publication Date





246 - 253


Animals, Cell Transformation, Viral, Endogenous Retroviruses, Epigenesis, Genetic, Genomic Instability, Humans, Models, Biological, Mutagenesis, Insertional, Neoplasms, Promoter Regions, Genetic, Terminal Repeat Sequences