Objective: To address the activation and replicative activity of HERV-K102 in vivo associated with HIV viremia.
Design and Methods: Initially serology was performed on HERV-K102 specific envelope peptides to determine if HERV-K102 may become activated with HIV viremia. Before developing a quantitative PCR (qPCR) assay, we first determined whether plasma associated particles contained DNA or RNA genomes in a pilot study which surprisingly revealed predominantly DNA genomes. A relative, ddCt qPCR ratio method was then devised to detect excess levels of HERV-K102 pol DNA templates over genomic levels which served as a surrogate marker to reliably index the level of particles found in plasma.
Results: Both the peptide serology and ddCt qPCR excess ratio methods suggested the activation of HERV-K102 in about 70–80% of HIV viremic cases whereas only 2–3% of normal healthy adults had marginally activated HERV-K102 (P < 0.0001). Moreover, by digestion with dUTPase we were able to confirm that the vast majority of excess DNA template in plasma related to cDNA production rather than representing genomic copies.
Conclusions: Our work uniquely suggests the common activation of HERV-K102 with HIV viremia and may be first to directly demonstrate HERV-K102 cDNA production in vivo. The potential implications of the induction of HERV-K102 activation and replication for the prevention and control of HIV are discussed.