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Comparative and Functional Genomics
Volume 3, Issue 6, Pages 494-498
Conference review

Endogenous Retroviruses and Human Evolution

Shemyakin–Ovchinnikov Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry, Russian Academy of Science, 16/10 Miklukho-Maklaya, Moscow 117997, Russia

Received 4 September 2002; Accepted 9 October 2002

Copyright © 2002 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Humans share about 99% of their genomic DNA with chimpanzees and bonobos; thus, the differences between these species are unlikely to be in gene content but could be caused by inherited changes in regulatory systems. Endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) comprise ∼ 5% of the human genome. The LTRs of ERVs contain many regulatory sequences, such as promoters, enhancers, polyadenylation signals and factor-binding sites. Thus, they can influence the expression of nearby human genes. All known human-specific LTRs belong to the HERV-K (human ERV) family, the most active family in the human genome. It is likely that some of these ERVs could have integrated into regulatory regions of the human genome, and therefore could have had an impact on the expression of adjacent genes, which have consequently contributed to human evolution. This review discusses possible functional consequences of ERV integration in active coding regions.