Retroviral transcriptional regulation and embryonic stem cells: War and peace

Sharon Schlesinger, Stephen P. Goff*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalShort surveypeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Retroviruses have evolved complex transcriptional enhancers and promoters that allow their replication in a wide range of tissue and cell types. Embryonic stem (ES) cells, however, characteristically suppress transcription of proviruses formed after infection by exogenous retroviruses and also of most members of the vast array of endogenous retroviruses in the genome. These cells have unusual profiles of transcribed genes and are poised to make rapid changes in those profiles upon induction of differentiation. Many of the transcription factors in ES cells control both host and retroviral genes coordinately, such that retroviral expression patterns can serve as markers of ES cell pluripotency. This overlap is not coincidental; retrovirus-derived regulatory sequences are often used to control cellular genes important for pluripotency. These sequences specify the temporal control and perhaps "noisy" control of cellular genes that direct proper cell gene expression in primitive cells and their differentiating progeny. The evidence suggests that the viral elements have been domesticated for host needs, reflecting the wide-ranging exploitation of any and all available DNA sequences in assembling regulatory networks.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)770-777
Number of pages8
JournalMolecular and Cellular Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, American Society for Microbiology.


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