Retrotransposition as a source of new promoters

Mol Biol Evol. 2008 Jun;25(6):1231-8. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msn071. Epub 2008 Mar 25.


The fact that promoters are essential for the function of all genes presents the basis of the general idea that retrotranspositions give rise to processed pseudogenes. However, recent studies have demonstrated that some retrotransposed genes are transcriptionally active. Because promoters are not thought to be retrotransposed along with exonic sequences, these transcriptionally active genes must have acquired a functional promoter by mechanisms that are yet to be determined. Hence, comparison between a retrotransposed gene and its source gene appears to provide a unique opportunity to investigate the promoter creation for a new gene. Here, we identified 29 gene pairs in the human genome, consisting of a functional retrotransposed gene and its parental gene, and compared their respective promoters. In more than half of these cases, we unexpectedly found that a large part of the core promoter had been transcribed, reverse transcribed, and then integrated to be operative at the transposed locus. This observation can be ascribed to the recent discovery that transcription start sites tend to be interspersed rather than situated at 1 specific site. This propensity could confer retrotransposability to promoters per se. Accordingly, the retrotransposability can explain the genesis of some alternative promoters.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genome, Human*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic / genetics*
  • Retroelements*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Transcription, Genetic*


  • Retroelements