HERVs and the immune system

Human Endogenous Retroviruses (HERVs) are remnants of ancient retroviral integrations which have been fixed in the human genome. Although most of HERV’s elements have accumulated mutations inactivating them, a few HERV encoded genes are still capable of producing nearly complete proteins. The presence of such near complete viral derived genetic elements has been linked with adaptation of such genes by the host organism (humans) in several cases including placenta formation and other instances.

AimVion’s research group (seen below), based in the University of Aarhus, discovered that one class of HERVs has been adapted by the immune system as control mechanism for rampant inflammatory reactions.
In fact there is a strong negative correlation between pro-inflammatory cytokine levels in auto-immune patients and the activity of the mentioned HERV genes. Based on structural analysis of such HERV proteins a new peptide was designed which showed strong anti-inflammatory activity both in cell lines as well as in animal models (Laska, M. J., Troldborg, A., Hauge, E. M., Bahrami, S., & Stengaard-Pedersen, K. (2016), Arthritis Rheumatol).

AimVion’s main technology is based on the development of this class of anti-inflammatory peptides into a new class of drugs initially as a second line of treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis and ultimately against many more autoimmune diseases.

From left to right: Prof. Kristian Stengaard-Pedersen, MD, DMSc, Anne Troldborg, MD, Shervin Bahrami, Phd and Assoc. Prof. Magdalena Laska, Phd