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Somatic expression of LINE-1 elements in human tissues

Nucleic Acids Research
Oxford University Press
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1093/nar/gkq132
  • Gene Regulation
  • Chromatin And Epigenetics
  • Biology


LINE-1 expression damages host DNA via insertions and endonuclease-dependent DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) that are highly toxic and mutagenic. The predominant tissue of LINE-1 expression has been considered to be the germ line. We show that both full-length and processed L1 transcripts are widespread in human somatic tissues and transformed cells, with significant variation in both L1 expression and L1 mRNA processing. This is the first demonstration that RNA processing is a major regulator of L1 activity. Many tissues also produce translatable spliced transcript (SpORF2). An Alu retrotransposition assay, COMET assays and 53BP1 foci staining show that the SpORF2 product can support functional ORF2 protein expression and can induce DNA damage in normal cells. Tests of the senescence-associated β-galactosidase expression suggest that expression of exogenous full-length L1, or the SpORF2 mRNA alone in human fibroblasts and adult stem cells triggers a senescence-like phenotype, which is one of the reported responses to DNA damage. In contrast to previous assumptions that L1 expression is germ line specific, the increased spectrum of tissues exposed to L1-associated damage suggests a role for L1 as an endogenous mutagen in somatic tissues. These findings have potential consequences for the whole organism in the form of cancer and mammalian aging.

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