Sensing of transposable elements by the antiviral innate immune system

Gazquez-Gutierrez, Ana; Witteveldt, Jeroen; Heras, Sara R.; Macias, Sara

Publicación: RNA
VL / 27 - BP / 735 - EP / 752
Around half of the genomes in mammals are composed of transposable elements (TEs) such as DNA transposons and retrotransposons. Several mechanisms have evolved to prevent their activity and the detrimental impact of their insertional mutagenesis. Despite these potentially negative effects, TEs are essential drivers of evolution, and in certain settings, beneficial to their hosts. For instance, TEs have rewired the antiviral gene regulatory network and are required for early embryonic development. However, due to structural similarities between TE-derived and viral nucleic acids, cells can mis-identify TEs as invading viruses and trigger the major antiviral innate immune pathway, the type I interferon (IFN) response. This review will focus on the different settings in which the role of TE-mediated IFN activation has been documented, including cancer and senescence. Importantly, TEs may also play a causative role in the development of complex autoimmune diseases characterized by constitutive type I IFN activation. All these observations suggest the presence of strong but opposing forces driving the coevolution of TEs and antiviral defense. A better biological understanding of the TE replicative cycle as well as of the antiviral nucleic acid sensing mechanisms will provide insights into how these two biological processes interact and will help to design better strategies to treat human diseases characterized by aberrant TE expression and/or type I IFN activation.

Access level

Bronze, Green published