Elevated HERV-K mRNA expression in PBMC is associated with a prostate cancer diagnosis particularly in older men and smokers

Tiffany A. Wallace, Ronan F. Downey, Caleb J. Seufert, Aaron Schetter, Tiffany H. Dorsey, Carol A. Johnson, Radoslav Goldman, Christopher A. Loffredo, Peisha Yan, Francis J. Sullivan, Francis J. Giles, Feng Wang-Johanning, Stefan Ambs, Sharon A. Glynn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Aberrant expression of subgroup k human endogenous retroviruses (HERV-K) has been observed in prostate cancer. This subgroup is unique because it encodes sequences in the human genome containing open reading frames for near intact retroviruses. We hypothesized that HERV-K reactivation could serve as a non-invasive early disease detection marker for prostate cancer. We evaluated HERV-K gag messenger RNA (mRNA) expression in blood samples of African-American and European-American men using a case-control design via quantitative real-time PCR. Additionally, we examined HERV-K envelope protein expression in prostate tumors by immunohistochemistry. HERV-K envelope protein was commonly upregulated in prostate tumors, but more so in tumors of African-American than European-American patients (61% versus 40%, P < 0.01). Examining HERV-K gag expression in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from 294 cases and 135 healthy men, we found that the abundance of HERV-K gag message was significantly higher in cases than controls and was associated with increased plasma interferon-γ. Men with gag expression in the highest quartile had >12-fold increased odds {odds ratio = 12.87 [95% confidence interval 6.3-26.25]} of being diagnosed with prostate cancer than those in the lowest quartile. Moreover, our results showed that HERV-K expression may perform better as a disease biomarker in older than younger men (whereas the sensitivity of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing decreases with age) and in men with a smoking history compared with never smokers. Combining non-invasive HERV-K testing with PSA testing may improve the efficacy of prostate cancer detection specifically among older men and smokers who tend to develop a more aggressive disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberbgu114
Pages (from-to)2074-2083
Number of pages10
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research


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