We report here that 85% of the patients with germ cell tumors (GCTs) produce antibodies directed against Env protein of human endogenous retroviruses. Individuals that received antitumor treatment showed a decrease with time in their antibody titers. Importantly, of the rare cases of non-GCT individuals with Env-antibodies (n = 15, 0.8%), none produced antibodies directed against the transmembrane domain (TM), whereas all tested Env-positive GCT patients (n = 49) generated such antibodies at high titers. TM is required for Env to be expressed at the cell surface. Thus, anti-TM antibodies constitute highly specific markers for GCT and may hint at a function of Env during tumorigenesis.
Supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Grant Mu 452/-1) and the Commission of the European Union (GENE-CT93-0019).