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Nat Genet. 2003 Sep;35(1):41-8. Epub 2003 Aug 3.

LINE-mediated retrotransposition of marked Alu sequences.

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Unité des Rétrovirus Endogènes et Eléments Rétroïdes des Eucaryotes Supérieurs, UMR 8122 CNRS, Institut Gustave Roussy, 39 rue Camille Desmoulins, 94805 Villejuif Cedex, France.


Alu elements are the most successful transposons in humans. They are 300-bp non-coding sequences transcribed by RNA polymerase III (Pol III) and are expected to retrotranspose with the aid of reverse transcriptases of cellular origin. We previously showed that human LINEs can generate cDNA copies of any mRNA transcript by means of a retroposition process involving reverse transcription and integration by the LINE-encoded endonuclease and reverse transcriptase. Here we show mobility of marked Alu sequences in human HeLa cells with the canonical features of a retrotransposition process, including splicing out of an autocatalytic intron introduced into the marked sequence, target site duplications of varying lengths and integrations into consensus A-rich sequences. We further show that the poly-A stretch at the Alu 3' end is essential for mobility, that LINEs are required for transposition and that the rate of retroposition is 100-1,000 times higher for Alu transcripts than for control mRNAs, thus accounting for the high mutational activity of these elements observed in humans.

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