Transposable elements as genetic regulatory substrates in early development

Trends Cell Biol. 2013 May;23(5):218-26. doi: 10.1016/j.tcb.2013.01.001. Epub 2013 Feb 12.


The abundance and ancient origins of transposable elements (TEs) in eukaryotic genomes has spawned research into the potential symbiotic relationship between these elements and their hosts. In this review, we introduce the diversity of TEs, discuss how distinct classes are uniquely regulated in development, and describe how they appear to have been coopted for the purposes of gene regulation and the orchestration of a number of processes during early embryonic development. Although young, active TEs play an important role in somatic tissues and evolution, we focus mostly on the contributions of the older, fixed elements in mammalian genomes. We also discuss major challenges inherent in the study of TEs and contemplate future experimental approaches to further investigate how they coordinate developmental processes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Transposable Elements*
  • Embryonic Development / physiology*
  • Endogenous Retroviruses / genetics
  • Endogenous Retroviruses / physiology
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / physiology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Genes, Viral / physiology
  • Humans
  • Long Interspersed Nucleotide Elements / physiology
  • Mammals / genetics
  • Mice
  • Placenta / physiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Retroelements / physiology


  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • Retroelements