The human LINE-1 retrotransposon creates DNA double-strand breaks

J Mol Biol. 2006 Apr 14;357(5):1383-93. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2006.01.089. Epub 2006 Feb 9.


Long interspersed element-1 (L1) is an autonomous retroelement that is active in the human genome. The proposed mechanism of insertion for L1 suggests that cleavage of both strands of genomic DNA is required. We demonstrate that L1 expression leads to a high level of double-strand break (DSB) formation in DNA using immunolocalization of gamma-H2AX foci and the COMET assay. Similar to its role in mediating DSB repair in response to radiation, ATM is required for L1-induced gamma-H2AX foci and for L1 retrotransposition. This is the first characterization of a DNA repair response from expression of a non-long terminal repeat (non-LTR) retrotransposon in mammalian cells as well as the first demonstration that a host DNA repair gene is required for successful integration. Notably, the number of L1-induced DSBs is greater than the predicted numbers of successful insertions, suggesting a significant degree of inefficiency during the integration process. This result suggests that the endonuclease activity of endogenously expressed L1 elements could contribute to DSB formation in germ-line and somatic tissues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins
  • Cell Cycle / physiology
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / genetics
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / metabolism
  • Comet Assay
  • DNA / genetics
  • DNA / metabolism*
  • DNA Damage*
  • DNA Fragmentation
  • DNA Repair*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • HeLa Cells
  • Histones / genetics
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Long Interspersed Nucleotide Elements*
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / metabolism


  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • H2AX protein, human
  • Histones
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins
  • DNA
  • ATM protein, human
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases