Human endogenous retroviruses (hERVs) are remnants of exogenous retroviruses that have integrated into the genome throughout evolution. We developed a computational workflow, hervQuant, which identified more than 3,000 transcriptionally active hERVs within The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) pan-cancer RNA-Seq database. hERV expression was associated with clinical prognosis in several tumor types, most significantly clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC). We explored two mechanisms by which hERV expression may influence the tumor immune microenvironment in ccRCC: (i) RIG-I–like signaling and (ii) retroviral antigen activation of adaptive immunity. We demonstrated the ability of hERV signatures associated with these immune mechanisms to predict patient survival in ccRCC, independent of clinical staging and molecular subtyping. We identified potential tumor-specific hERV epitopes with evidence of translational activity through the use of a ccRCC ribosome profiling (Ribo-Seq) dataset, validated their ability to bind HLA in vitro, and identified the presence of MHC tetramer–positive T cells against predicted epitopes. hERV sequences identified through this screening approach were significantly more highly expressed in ccRCC tumors responsive to treatment with programmed death receptor 1 (PD-1) inhibition. hervQuant provides insights into the role of hERVs within the tumor immune microenvironment, as well as evidence that hERV expression could serve as a biomarker for patient prognosis and response to immunotherapy.
Christof C. Smith, Kathryn E. Beckermann, Dante S. Bortone, Aguirre A. De Cubas, Lisa M. Bixby, Samuel J. Lee, Anshuman Panda, Shridar Ganesan, Gyan Bhanot, Eric M. Wallen, Matthew I. Milowsky, William Y. Kim, W. Kimryn Rathmell, Ronald Swanstrom, Joel S. Parker, Jonathan S. Serody, Sara R. Selitsky, Benjamin G. Vincent
Guidelines: The Editorial Board will only consider letters that we deem relevant and of interest to our readers. We will not post data that have not been subjected to peer review, nor will we post letters that are essentially a reiteration of another letter. We reserve the right to edit any letter for length, content, and clarity. Authors will be notified by e-mail if their letters were accepted. No appeals will be considered.
Specific requirements: All letters must be 400 words or fewer. You may enter the letter as plain text or HTML. The author's name and e-mail address are required, and will be posted with the letter. All possible conflicts of interest must be noted, even if they are not posted. If you wish to include a figure (keep in mind that non-peer-reviewed data will not be posted), please contact the editors directly at email@example.com.