The DNA copy number of human endogenous retrovirus-W (MSRV-type) is increased in multiple sclerosis patients and is influenced by gender and disease severity.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease more prevalent in women than in men. Multiple Sclerosis Associated Retrovirus element (MSRV) is a member of type-W endogenous retrovirus family (HERV-W), known to be associated to MS. Most HERVs are unable to replicate but MSRV expression associated with reverse-transcriptase activity in MS would explain reported DNA copy number increase in MS patients. A potential link between HERV-W copies on chromosome X and gender differential prevalence has been suggested. The present study addresses MSRV-type DNA load in relation with the gender differences and clinical status in MS and healthy controls. 178 MS patients (62.9% women) and 124 controls (56.5% women) were included. MSRV env load (copies/pg of DNA) was analyzed by real time qPCR with specific primers and probe for its env gene, in DNA from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs). MSRV load was more elevated in MS patients than in controls (p = 4.15e-7). MS women presented higher MSRV load than control women (p = 0.009) and MS men also had higher load than control men (p = 2.77e-6). Besides, women had higher levels than men, both among patients (p = 0.007) and controls (p = 1.24e-6). Concordantly, EDSS and MSSS scores were higher among female patients with an elevated MSRV load (p = 0.03 and p = 0.04, respectively). MSRV increases its copy number in PBMC of MS patients and particularly in women with high clinical scores. This may explain causes underlying the higher prevalence of MS in women. The association with the clinical severity calls for further investigations on MSRV load in PBMCs as a biomarker for MS.