The HERV-H family of endogenous retrovirus like elements is the largest such human family known. Using an HERV-H LTR probe, 6 and 4·5 kb transcripts were detected by Northern blot analysis which were induced in normal peripheral T cells after treatment with phytohaemaglutinin (PHA). Expression was not evident 30 min after treatment with phorbol ester, was increased within 3–4 h after treatment, reached a maximum after 8 h and then declined to low levels 24 h after treatment. Expression was inhibited totally by cycloheximide (10 µ) and by the immunosuppressant cyclosporin A (1 µg/ml). Using probes specific for the U3 and U5 regions of the HERV-H LTR, in combination with internal HERV-H probes, evidence was obtained that the 6 and 4·5 kb transcripts are polyadenylated from an HERV-H LTR. A cDNA library was constructed from T cells which had been treated with PHA for 8 h and a 1·7 kb clone was isolated using the HERV-H LTR probe. The insert contained a novel tandem array of an Alu, a LINE-1 element, two endogenous retroviral LTRs and an A-T-rich sequence. The A-T-rich sequence contained multiple copies of AUUUA mRNA regulatory motifs. Because of its high expression level, defined transcription kinetics, novel cassette-like composition and the presence of conserved mRNA stabilization sequences, we hypothesize that the transcript may play a biological role during T cell activation.


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