Endogenous retroviral sequences provide a molecular fossil record of ancient infections whose analysis might illuminate mechanisms of viral extinction. A close relative of gammaretroviruses, HERV-T, circulated in primates for ~25 million years (MY) before apparent extinction within the past ~8 MY. Construction of a near-complete catalog of HERV-T fossils in primate genomes allowed us to estimate a ~32 MY old ancestral sequence and reconstruct a functional envelope protein (ancHTenv) that could support infection of a pseudotyped modern gammaretrovirus. Using ancHTenv, we identify monocarboxylate transporter-1 (MCT-1) as a receptor used by HERV-T for attachment and infection. A single HERV-T provirus in hominid genomes includes an env gene (hsaHTenv) that has been uniquely preserved. This apparently exapted HERV-T env could not support virion infection but could block ancHTenv mediated infection, by causing MCT-1 depletion from cell surfaces. Thus, hsaHTenv may have contributed to HERV-T extinction, and could also potentially regulate cellular metabolism.
Destabilization of a non-enveloped virus generates a membrane transport-competent viral particle. Here we probe polyomavirus SV40 endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-to-cytosol membrane transport, a decisive infection step where destabilization initiates this non-enveloped virus for membrane penetration. We find that a member of the ER membrane protein complex (EMC) called EMC1 promotes SV40 ER membrane transport and infection. Surprisingly, EMC1 does so by using its predicted transmembrane residue D961 to bind to and stabilize the membrane-embedded partially destabilized SV40, thereby preventing premature viral disassembly. EMC1-dependent stabilization enables SV40 to engage a cytosolic extraction complex that ejects the virus into the cytosol. Thus EMC1 acts as a molecular chaperone, bracing the destabilized SV40 in a transport-competent state. Our findings reveal the novel principle that coordinated destabilization-stabilization drives membrane transport of a non-enveloped virus.