Date of Graduation


Document Type

Thesis (MS)

Program Affiliation

Virology and Gene Therapy

Degree Name

Masters of Science (MS)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Feng Wang-Johanning

Committee Member

Gary Johanning

Committee Member

Laszlo Radvanyi

Committee Member

David Johnson

Committee Member

Mark McArthur

Committee Member

Victoria Knutson


The human endogenous retrovirus K (HERV-K) env gene encodes envelope protein comprising surface (SU) and transmembrane (TM) domains. Having shown the exclusive expression of SU in human breast cancer and the stimulation of SU-specific immune responses in patients with breast cancer, our research here confirmed and extended the data by investigating the expression of HERV-K TM envelope domain and the induction of specific immune responses against TM in breast cancer patients. We found HERV-K TM mRNA and protein expression only in human breast cancer cells but not in normal controls. The specific immune responses against TM domain were induced in mice determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and IFN-γ enzyme-linked immunosorbent spot (ELISPOT) assay. Furthermore, ELISA detected higher titers of anti-HERV-K TM Env IgG antibodies in sera of breast cancer patients. In addition, the magnitude of the anti-HERV TM B cell response was correlated with the disease stage. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) before and after in vitro stimulation (IVS) with HERV-K TM from patients with breast cancer as well as healthy controls were tested for T cell responses against HERV-K TM domain by ELISPOT assay. Breast cancer patients (n=21) had stronger HERV-K TM-specific cellular responses than healthy controls (n=12) (P < 0.05). These findings suggest, for the first time, that HERV-K TM expression was enhanced in human breast cancer cells and was able to induce specific B cell and T cell immune responses in breast cancer patients. This study provides support for HERV-K TM as a promising source of antigen for anti-tumor immunotherapy, prevention, diagnosis, and prognosis.


HERV-K, envelope, transmembrane, expression, immune response, and human breast cancer



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