HERV-K is a 50-copy, human endogenous, class 1 retroviral element that contains some polycistrons with gag, pol, and env open reading frames. Although expression of HERV-K proviruses has been shown in cultured human cell lines, expression of these elements has not been shown in human blood leukocytes. Using both reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction and ribonuclease protection techniques, we show HERV-K pol gene expression in human blood leukocytes. Expression in blood leukocytes from 7 normal individuals was from a variety of different HERV-K proviruses, while restricted expression was observed in blood cells of 5 leukemia patients and 3 polycythemia vera patients. Evidence is presented suggesting that the restricted expression in leukemia blood cells is a result of gene regulation, not gene amplification.

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