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Elife. 2019 Dec 11;8. pii: e51139. doi: 10.7554/eLife.51139.

Diversification of the Caenorhabditis heat shock response by Helitron transposable elements.

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Division of Biology, University of California, San Diego, San Diego, United States.


Heat Shock Factor 1 (HSF-1) is a key regulator of the heat shock response (HSR). Upon heat shock, HSF-1 binds well-conserved motifs, called Heat Shock Elements (HSEs), and drives expression of genes important for cellular protection during this stress. Remarkably, we found that substantial numbers of HSEs in multiple Caenorhabditis species reside within Helitrons, a type of DNA transposon. Consistent with Helitron-embedded HSEs being functional, upon heat shock they display increased HSF-1 and RNA polymerase II occupancy and up-regulation of nearby genes in C. elegans. Interestingly, we found that different genes appear to be incorporated into the HSR by species-specific Helitron insertions in C. elegans and C. briggsae and by strain-specific insertions among different wild isolates of C. elegans. Our studies uncover previously unidentified targets of HSF-1 and show that Helitron insertions are responsible for rewiring and diversifying the Caenorhabditis HSR.


C. elegans; Caenorhabditis; HSF-1; genetics; genomics; heat shock; transposons

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