ERVs (endogenous retroviruses), which comprise 8–10% of mouse and human genomes, are present in thousands of copies, ranging in size from complete 9 kb virus to truncated partial sequences. Despite well-documented differential expression of ERVs in normal and diseased tissues, their biological significance remains controversial. Work in this laboratory revealed remarkably high ERV expression in mouse epididymis, but not in testis. Similar early studies revealed expression of human ERV-E4.1 in both testis and epididymis, but expression of other HERVs (human ERVs) was not examined. Using degenerate primers to conserved regions of reverse transcriptase specific for each of nine HERV families, we have detected expression of six HERV families in epididymis and three in testis. Differential HERV expression may reflect the fully differentiated state of epididymal epithelium in contrast with the immature germ cell population in the testis. These two tissues may therefore lay the groundwork not only for understanding the influence of cellular differentiation on HERV expression, but also to reveal HERVs that are routinely exposed to sperm.

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