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Chromosome Res. 2013 Dec;21(6-7):587-600. doi: 10.1007/s10577-013-9394-4.

Small RNAs, big impact: small RNA pathways in transposon control and their effect on the host stress response.

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Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, 94720, USA,


Transposons are mobile genetic elements that are a major constituent of most genomes. Organisms regulate transposable element expression, transposition, and insertion site preference, mitigating the genome instability caused by uncontrolled transposition. A recent burst of research has demonstrated the critical role of small non-coding RNAs in regulating transposition in fungi, plants, and animals. While mechanistically distinct, these pathways work through a conserved paradigm. The presence of a transposon is communicated by the presence of its RNA or by its integration into specific genomic loci. These signals are then translated into small non-coding RNAs that guide epigenetic modifications and gene silencing back to the transposon. In addition to being regulated by the host, transposable elements are themselves capable of influencing host gene expression. Transposon expression is responsive to environmental signals, and many transposons are activated by various cellular stresses. TEs can confer local gene regulation by acting as enhancers and can also confer global gene regulation through their non-coding RNAs. Thus, transposable elements can act as stress-responsive regulators that control host gene expression in cis and trans.

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