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Cell Res. 2010 May;20(5):553-62. doi: 10.1038/cr.2010.48. Epub 2010 Apr 13.

VL30 retrotransposition signals activation of a caspase-independent and p53-dependent death pathway associated with mitochondrial and lysosomal damage.

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Laboratory of General Biology, University of Ioannina, Medical School, 45 110 Ioannina, Greece.


The impact of long terminal repeat (LTR) retrotransposition on cell fate is unknown. Here, we investigated the effect of VL30 retrotransposition on cell death in SV40-transformed mouse SVTT1 cells. Transfection of a VL30 retrotransposon decreased the clonogenicity of SVTT1 by 17-fold, as compared to parental NIH3T3 cells. Correlated levels of retrotransposition frequency and cell death rates were found in retrotransposition-positive SVTT1 cloned cells, exhibiting DNA fragmentation, nuclear condensation, multinucleation and cytoplasmic vacuolization. Analysis of activation of effector caspases revealed a caspase-independent cell death mechanism. However, cell death was associated with p53 induction and concomitant upregulation of PUMAalpha and Bax and downregulation of Bcl-2 and Hsp70 protein expression. Moreover, we found partial loss of colocalization of large T-antigen (LT)/p53 and p53 translocation to mitochondria, leading to mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization (MOMP) accompanied by lysosomal membrane permeabilization (LMP). Interestingly, treatment with the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine abolished cell death, suggesting the involvement of mitochondrial-derived reactive oxygen species, and resulted in an increase of retrotransposition frequency. Importantly, the induction of cell death was VL30 retrotransposon-specific as VL30 mobilization was induced; in contrast, mobilization of the non-LTR L1 (LINE-1, long interspersed nuclear element-1), B2 and LTR MusD retrotransposons decreased. Our results provide, for the first time, strong evidence that VL30 retrotransposition mediates cell death via mitochondrial and lysosomal damage, uncovering the role of retrotransposition as a nuclear signal activating a mitochondrial-lysosomal crosstalk in triggering cell death.

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