Several studies have shown that human endogenous retroviruses and endogenous retrovirus-like repeats (here collectively HERVs) impose direct regulation on human genes through enhancer and promoter motifs present in their long terminal repeats (LTRs). Although chimeric transcription in which novel gene isoforms containing retroviral and human sequence are transcribed from viral promoters are commonly associated with disease, regulation by HERVs is beneficial in other settings; for example, in human testis chimeric isoforms of TP63 induced by an ERV9 LTR protect the male germ line upon DNA damage by inducing apoptosis, whereas in the human globin locus the γ- and β-globin switch during normal hematopoiesis is mediated by complex interactions of an ERV9 LTR and surrounding human sequence. The advent of deep sequencing or next-generation sequencing (NGS) has revolutionized the way researchers solve important scientific questions and develop novel hypotheses in relation to human genome regulation. We recently applied next-generation paired-end RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq) together with chromatin immunoprecipitation with sequencing (ChIP-seq) to examine ERV9 chimeric transcription in human reference cell lines from Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE). This led to the discovery of advanced regulation mechanisms by ERV9s and other HERVs across numerous human loci including transcription of large gene-unannotated genomic regions, as well as cooperative regulation by multiple HERVs and non-LTR repeats such as Alu elements. In this article, well-established examples of human gene regulation by HERVs are reviewed followed by a description of paired-end RNA-seq, and its application in identifying chimeric transcription genome-widely. Based on integrative analyses of RNA-seq and ChIP-seq, data we then present novel examples of regulation by ERV9s of tumor suppressor genes CADM2 and SEMA3A, as well as transcription of an unannotated region. Taken together, this article highlights the high suitability of contemporary sequencing methods in future analyses of human biology in relation to evolutionary acquired retroviruses in the human genome.
© 2016 APMIS. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.