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Several lines of evidence suggest the involvement of the human endogenous retrovirus (HERV)-K18 in the etiology of type 1 diabetes. HERV-K18 encodes for a T-cell superantigen (SAg). T-cells with T-cell receptor Vbeta7 chains reactive to the SAg and HERV-K18 mRNA were enriched in the tissues at the onset of the disease. HERV-K18 transcription and SAg function in cells capable of efficient presentation are induced by proinflammatory stimuli such as viruses and interferon-alpha and may trigger progression of disease to insulitis or from insulitis to overt diabetes. Allelic variation of HERV-K18 or the DNA flanking it, the CD48 gene, could modulate genetic susceptibility. Analysis of 14 polymorphisms in the locus using 754 diabetic families provided positive evidence of association of three variants belonging to a single haplotype (P = 0.0026), present at 21.8% frequency in the population. Genotype analysis suggested a dominantly protective effect of this haplotype (P = 0.0061). Further genetic and functional analyses are required to confirm these findings.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





852 - 854


Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1, Endogenous Retroviruses, Humans, Inflammation, Polymorphism, Genetic, Transcription, Genetic