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Cytogenet Genome Res. 2005;110(1-4):223-8.

The structures of mouse and human L1 elements reflect their insertion mechanism.

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  • 1Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver, CO 80045, USA. sandy.martin@uchsc.edu


L1 is an abundant, interspersed repeated DNA element of mammalian genomes. It has achieved its high copy number via retrotransposition. Like other non-LTR retrotransposons, L1 insertion into chromosomal DNA apparently occurs by target-site primed reverse transcription, or TPRT. L1 retrotransposition often generates elements with 5' truncations that are flanked by a duplication of the genomic target site (TSD). It is typically assumed that the 5' truncated elements are the consequence of poor processivity of the L1 reverse transcriptase. However, we find that the majority of young L1 elements from both the human and mouse genomes are truncated at sequences that can basepair with the target site. Thus, to whatever extent truncation is a consequence of poor processivity, we suggest that truncation is likely to occur when target site sequence can basepair with L1 sequence. This finding supports a model for insertion that occurs by two sequential TPRT reactions, the second of which relies upon the homology between the target site and L1. Because perfect heteroduplex formation is not required for all insertions, a dynamic relationship between the primer, template and enzyme during reverse transcription is inferred. 5' truncation may be a successful evolutionary strategy that is exploited by L1 as a means to escape host suppression of transposition.

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