Transposable elements (TEs) are major components of eukaryotic genomes. However, the extent of their impact on genome evolution, function, and disease remain a matter of intense interrogation. The rise of genomics and large-scale functional assays has shed new light on the multi-faceted activities of TEs and implies that they should no longer be marginalized. Here, we introduce the fundamental properties of TEs and their complex interactions with their cellular environment, which are crucial to understanding their impact and manifold consequences for organismal biology. While we draw examples primarily from mammalian systems, the core concepts outlined here are relevant to a broad range of organisms.
SIRT6 is a mammalian homolog of the yeast Sir2 deacetylase that promotes longevity in yeast and invertebrates. Mice deficient for SIRT6 exhibit premature aging and genome instability. Here we show that in mammalian cells subjected to oxidative stress SIRT6 is recruited to the sites of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) and strongly stimulates both pathways of DSB repair, nonhomologous end joining and homologous recombination. We found that SIRT6 physically associates with PARP1 leading to stimulation of PARP1 poly-ADP-ribose polymerase activity. Mono-ADP-ribosylation activity of SIRT6 is sufficient for the activation of PARP1 in vitro, while both mono-ADP-ribosylation and deacetylation activities are required for the stimulation of DSB repair in vivo. Our results suggest that SIRT6 mono-ADP-ribosylates PARP1 on lysine 521 thereby stimulating PARP1 activity and enhancing DSB repair under oxidative stress. We propose that SIRT6 functions as a regulator integrating oxidative stress signaling and DNA damage response.
Retrotransposable elements (RTEs) are deleterious at multiple levels, and failure of host surveillance systems can thus have negative consequences. However, the contribution of RTE activity to aging and age-associated diseases is not known. Here we show that during cellular senescence LINE-1 elements (L1s) become transcriptionally derepressed and activate a type-I interferon (IFN-I) response. The IFN-I response is a novel phenotype of late senescence and contributes to the maintenance of the senescence associated secretory phenotype (SASP). The IFN-I response is triggered by cytoplasmic L1 cDNA, and is antagonized by nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) that inhibit the L1 reverse transcriptase (RT). Treatment of aged mice with the NRTI lamivudine downregulated IFN-I activation and age-associated inflammation in several tissues. We propose that RTE activation is an important component of sterile inflammation that is a hallmark of aging, and that L1 RT is a relevant target for the treatment of age-associated disorders.
The naked mole-rat displays exceptional longevity, with a maximum lifespan exceeding 30 years1–3. This is the longest reported lifespan for a rodent species and is especially striking considering the small body mass of the naked mole-rat. In comparison, a similarly sized house mouse has a maximum lifespan of 4 years4,5. In addition to their longevity, naked mole-rats show an unusual resistance to cancer. Multi-year observations of large naked mole-rat colonies did not detect a single incidence of cancer2,6. Here we identify a mechanism responsible for the naked mole-rat’s cancer resistance. We found that naked mole-rat fibroblasts secrete extremely high molecular weight hyaluronan (HA), which is over five times larger than human or mouse HA. This high molecular weight HA accumulates abundantly in naked mole rat tissues due to the decreased activity of HA-degrading enzymes and a unique sequence of hyaluronan synthase 2 (HAS2). Furthermore, the naked mole-rat cells are more sensitive to HA signaling, as the naked mole rat cells have a higher affinity to HA than the mouse or human cells. Perturbation of the signaling pathways sufficient for malignant transformation of mouse fibroblasts fails to transform naked mole-rat cells. However, once high molecular weight HA is removed by either knocking down HAS2 or overexpressing the HA-degrading enzyme, Hyal2, naked mole-rat cells become susceptible to malignant transformation and readily form tumors in mice. We speculate that naked mole-rats have evolved a higher concentration of HA in the skin to provide skin elasticity needed for life in underground tunnels. This trait may have then been co-opted to provide cancer resistance and longevity to this species.
The two major pathways for repair of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) are homologous recombination (HR) and nonhomologous end joining (NHEJ). HR leads to accurate repair, while NHEJ is intrinsically mutagenic. To understand human somatic mutation it is essential to know the relationship between these pathways in human cells. Here we provide a comparison of the kinetics and relative contributions of HR and NHEJ in normal human cells. We used chromosomally integrated fluorescent reporter substrates for real-time in vivo monitoring of the NHEJ and HR. By examining multiple integrated clones we show that the efficiency of NHEJ and HR is strongly influenced by chromosomal location. Furthermore, we show that NHEJ of compatible ends (NHEJ-C) and NHEJ of incompatible ends (NHEJ-I) are fast processes, which can be completed in approximately 30 min, while HR is much slower and takes 7h or longer to complete. In actively cycling cells NHEJ-C is twice as efficient as NHEJ-I, and NHEJ-I is three times more efficient than HR. Our results suggest that NHEJ is a faster and more efficient DSB repair pathway than HR.
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