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Transposable elements (TEs) comprise a significant part of eukaryotic genomes being a major source of genome instability and mutagenesis. Cellular defense systems suppress the TE expansion at all stages of their life cycle. Piwi proteins and Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) are key elements of the anti-transposon defense system, which control TE activity in metazoan gonads preventing inheritable transpositions and developmental defects. In this review, we discuss various regulatory mechanisms by which small RNAs combat TE activity. However, active transposons persist, suggesting these powerful anti-transposon defense mechanisms have a limited capacity. A growing body of evidence suggests that increased TE activity coincides with genome reprogramming and telomere lengthening in different species. In the Drosophila fruit fly, whose telomeres consist only of retrotransposons, a piRNA-mediated mechanism is required for telomere maintenance and their length control. Therefore, the efficacy of protective mechanisms must be finely balanced in order not only to suppress the activity of transposons, but also to maintain the proper length and stability of telomeres. Structural and functional relationship between the telomere homeostasis and LINE1 retrotransposon in human cells indicates a close link between selfish TEs and the vital structure of the genome, telomere. This relationship, which permits the retention of active TEs in the genome, is reportedly a legacy of the retrotransposon origin of telomeres. The maintenance of telomeres and the execution of other crucial roles that TEs acquired during the process of their domestication in the genome serve as a type of payment for such a "service.


Alla I Kalmykova, Olesya A Sokolova. Retrotransposons and Telomeres. Biochemistry. Biokhimiia. 2023 Nov;88(11):1739-1753

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PMID: 38105195

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