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J Mol Biol. 2006 Apr 14;357(5):1383-93. Epub 2006 Feb 9.

The human LINE-1 retrotransposon creates DNA double-strand breaks.

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Tulane Cancer Center and Department of Epidemiology, Tulane University Health Sciences Center, 1430 Tulane Ave., New Orleans, LA 70112, USA.


Long interspersed element-1 (L1) is an autonomous retroelement that is active in the human genome. The proposed mechanism of insertion for L1 suggests that cleavage of both strands of genomic DNA is required. We demonstrate that L1 expression leads to a high level of double-strand break (DSB) formation in DNA using immunolocalization of gamma-H2AX foci and the COMET assay. Similar to its role in mediating DSB repair in response to radiation, ATM is required for L1-induced gamma-H2AX foci and for L1 retrotransposition. This is the first characterization of a DNA repair response from expression of a non-long terminal repeat (non-LTR) retrotransposon in mammalian cells as well as the first demonstration that a host DNA repair gene is required for successful integration. Notably, the number of L1-induced DSBs is greater than the predicted numbers of successful insertions, suggesting a significant degree of inefficiency during the integration process. This result suggests that the endonuclease activity of endogenously expressed L1 elements could contribute to DSB formation in germ-line and somatic tissues.

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