Background: Large granular lymphocyte (LGL) leukemia is an uncommon cancer characterized by sustained clonal proliferation of LGL cells. Antibodies reactive to retroviruses have been documented in the serum of patients with LGL leukemia. Culture or molecular approaches have to date not been successful in identifying a retrovirus. Methods: Because a retrovirus must integrate into the genome of an infected cell, we focused our efforts on detecting a novel retrovirus integration site in the clonally expanded LGL cells. We present a new computational tool that uses long-insert mate pair sequence data to search the genome of LGL leukemia cells for retrovirus integration sites. We also utilize recently published methods to interrogate the status of polymorphic human endogenous retrovirus type K (HERV-K) provirus in patient genomes. Results: Our data show that there are no new retrovirus insertions in LGL genomes of LGL leukemia patients. However, our insertion call tool did detect four HERV-K provirus integration sites that are polymorphic in the human population but absent from the human reference genome, hg19. To determine if the prevalence of these or other polymorphic proviral HERV-Ks differed between LGL leukemia patients and the general population, we used a recently developed tool that reports sites in the human genome occupied by a known proviral HERV-K. We report that there are significant differences in the number of polymorphic HERV-Ks in the genomes of LGL leukemia patients of European origin compared to individuals with European ancestry in the 1000 genomes (KGP) data. Conclusions: Our study confirms that the clonal expansion of LGL cells in LGL leukemia is not driven by the integration of a new infectious or endogenous retrovirus, although we do not rule out that these cells are responding to retroviral antigens produced in other cell types. However, our computational analyses revealed that the genomes of LGL leukemia patients carry a higher burden of polymorphic HERV-K proviruses compare to individuals from KGP of European ancestry. Our research emphasizes the merits of comprehensive genomic assessment of HERV-K in cancer samples and suggests that further analyses to determine contributions of HERV-K to LGL leukemia are warranted.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes