Capture of a hyena-specific retroviral envelope gene with placental expression associated in evolution with the unique emergence among carnivorans of hemochorial placentation in Hyaenidae

Mathis Funk, Guillaume Cornelis, Cécile Vernochet, Odile Heidmann, Anne Dupressoir, Alan J Conley, Stephen Glickman, Thierry Heidmann

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Capture of retroviral envelope genes from endogenous retroviruses has played a role in the evolution of mammals, with evidence for the involvement of these genes in the formation of the maternofetal interface of the placenta. It has been shown that the diversity of captured genes is likely to be responsible for the diversity of placental structures, ranging from poorly invasive (epitheliochorial) to highly invasive (hemochorial), with an intermediate state (endotheliochorial) as found in carnivorans. The latter recapitulate part of this evolution, with the hyena being the sole carnivoran with a hemochorial placenta. In this study, we performed RNA sequencing on hyena placental transcripts and searched for endogenous retroviral envelope genes that have been captured specifically in the Hyaenidae clade and are not found in any other carnivoran. We identified an envelope gene that is expressed in the placenta at the level of the maternofetal interface, as evidenced by in situ hybridization/immunohistochemistry. The gene entry is coincidental with the emergence of the Hyaenidae clade 30 million years ago (Mya), being found at the same genomic locus in all 4 extant hyena species. Its coding sequence has further been maintained during all of Hyaenidae evolution. It is not found in any of the 30 other carnivorans-both Felidae and Canidae-that we screened. This envelope protein does not disclose any fusogenic activity in ex vivo assays, at variance with the syncytin-Car1 gene, which is found in all carnivorans, including the hyena, in which it is still present, transcriptionally active in the placenta, and fusogenic. Together, the present results illustrate the permanent renewal of placenta-specific genes by retroviral capture and de facto provide a candidate gene for the endotheliochorial to hemochorial transition of Hyaenidae among carnivorans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0181118
JournalJournal of Virology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 1 2019


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology

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