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Title: The detection and role of human endogenous retrovirus K (HML-2) in rheumatoid arthritis
Author: Freimanis, Graham L.
ISNI:       0000 0001 3484 033X
Awarding Body: University of Wolverhampton
Current Institution: University of Wolverhampton
Date of Award: 2008
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Human endogenous retroviruses are the remnants of ancient retroviral infections present within our genome. These molecular fossils show similarities with present day exogenous retroviruses but act as typical Mendelian elements that are passed vertically between generations. Despite being repeatedly linked to a number of autoimmune diseases and disorders, no conclusive proof has been identified. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is one such disease which has been associated with an increase in HERV expression, compared to controls. In order to elucidate a clear role for HERVs in RA pathogenesis, autoantigens implicated in disease pathogenesis were scanned for sequence homology to retroviral genes. Such epitopes would induce antibodies cross reactive with host proteins, resulting in disease. Short peptides mimicking these regions were synthesised and the prevalence of anti-HERV antibodies was determined in RA patients and disease controls. Additionally, a novel real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) assay was developed to accurately quantify levels of HERV-K (HML-2) gag expression, relative to normalised levels of housekeeping gene expression. Both serological and molecular assays showed significant increases in HERV-K (HML-2) activity in RA patients compared to disease controls with CD4+ lymphocytes harbouring the highest activity. The real-time assay was also used to determine whether factors within the synovium could modulate HERVs, resulting in their upregulation. Exogenous viral protein expression and pro-inflammatory cytokines were shown to exert a significant modulatory effect over HERV-K (HML-2) transcription. From this data, it is clear that RA patients have increased levels of HERV-K (HML-2) gag activity compared to controls. Despite this it is likely that factors within the synovium such as exogenous viral expression and pro-inflammatory cytokines also influence HERV-K (HML-2) transcription possibly contributing to a role of bystander activation, i.e. being influenced by external factors, rather than actively contributing to disease processes. The exact role of HERVs in RA pathology remains elusive; however this research proposes several mechanisms by which HERV-K (HML-2) may contribute to disease.
Supervisor: Nelson, Paul N. ; Hooley, Paul ; Rylance, Paul Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Retroviridae Infections ; Autoimmunity ; Rheumatoid Arthritis ; Human Endogenous Retroviruses ; Molecular ; Virus ; Immunology ; Rheumatic ; Arthritis, Rheumatoid