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Consequences of ongoing retrotransposition in mammalian genomes

Authors Maxwell P

Received 30 June 2014

Accepted for publication 24 July 2014

Published 26 September 2014 Volume 2014:4 Pages 129—142


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Dr John Martignetti

Patrick H Maxwell

Department of Biological Sciences, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY, USA

Abstract: Retrotransposons can have significant influences on gene expression and genome stability through their ability to integrate reverse-transcript copies of their sequences at new genomic locations by retrotransposition. These elements have been long known to retrotranspose in mammalian germ cells to give rise to inherited insertion alleles, but more recent work has also shown that retrotransposition can occur in mammalian somatic cells, particularly in brain tissue and tumors. Retrotransposition makes appreciable contributions to spontaneous disease-causing alleles in humans and a more significant contribution to spontaneous mutations in mice. Genome-wide studies have found high levels of polymorphic retrotransposon insertions in human populations that are consistent with ongoing retrotransposition. Many insertions do not disrupt exons, but insertions into introns or flanking genes can alter gene expression patterns, generate truncated or antisense gene transcripts, alter splicing patterns, or result in premature polyadenylation of gene transcripts. Furthermore, the very high genomic copy numbers of these elements can lead to nonallelic homologous recombination events that produce gene deletions/duplications and genome rearrangements, and can also lead to evolution of particular insertions or types of elements to have cellular functions through exaptation. Mobility of these elements occurs despite multiple epigenetic mechanisms to restrict their expression. While the potential for retrotransposons to significantly influence mammalian health and cellular functions is clear, substantial research efforts will be needed to fully elucidate the actual contributions of natural levels of mobility of endogenous elements to the health and development of humans and other mammals.

Keywords: retrotransposon, human, mouse, mutations, epigenetics, exaptation

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