The association between plasma ervwe1 concentrations and affective symptoms during pregnancy: Is this a friendly alien?

Marta Serati, Cecilia Maria Esposito, Silvia Grassi, Valentina Bollati, Jennifer Lynn Barkin, Massimiliano Buoli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) comprise 8% of the human genome, and HERV DNA was reported to be essential in human embryonic development. Specifically, HERV-W encodes a protein, syncytin-1, alternatively known as ERVWE1 (Human Endogenous Retrovirus W EnvC7-1 Envelope Protein), participating in human placental morphogenesis and having a role in immune system regulation. Syncytin-1 activity is increased in neuropsychiatric disorders, autoimmune diseases, and cancer. In our study, forty-four women in the third trimester of pregnancy were tested for ERVWE1 plasma levels. In concomitance with blood samples the following rating scales were administered to women: the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), State Anxiety Inventory (STAI-S), Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI-T), and Prenatal Attachment Inventory (PAI). We found that higher ERVWE1 protein plasma levels were significantly associated with higher PAI scores (p = 0.02), an earlier gestational age at the time of blood collection (p = 0.01), a longer duration of symptoms (p = 0.03), and fewer lifetime attempted suicides (p = 0.02). Our results seem to support the role of ERVWE1 in maintaining clinical psychiatric symptoms as a result of potential prolonged inflammation. At the same time, this protein may have a protective role in pregnant women by a reduction of suicidal behavior and a better mother–fetus relationship.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9217
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2 2020


  • Affective symptoms
  • Human Endogenous Retrovirus W EnvC7-1 Envelope Protein (ERVWE1)
  • Pregnancy
  • Syncytin 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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