LINE-1 and Alu retrotransposition exhibit clonal variation

Mob DNA. 2013 Jun 3;4(1):16. doi: 10.1186/1759-8753-4-16.


Background: The non-long terminal repeat (non-LTR) retrotransposons, long interspersed element-1 (LINE-1) and Alu are currently active retroelements in humans. We, and others, have observed that different populations of HeLa cells from different laboratories support retrotransposition of LINE-1 and Alu to varying degrees. We therefore tested whether individual cell clones of HeLa and HCT116 cell lines supported different levels of LINE-1 and Alu retrotransposition, and whether these variations were stable upon re-cloning.

Findings: Standard retrotransposition tissue culture assays were used to measure a cell's ability to support LINE-1 and Alu retrotransposition in clonal HeLa and HCT116 cell lines. We observed that both LINE-1 and Alu retrotransposition exhibited clonal variation in HeLa cells, with certain HeLa cell clones supporting high levels of LINE-1 and Alu retrotransposition and other cell clones being essentially retrotransposition-dead. This clonal variation was similarly observed in HCT116 cells, although possibly not to the same extent. These patterns of clonal variation are relatively consistent upon re-cloning.

Conclusions: Observations of the variability of LINE-1 and Alu retrotransposition in different populations of the same cell line are supported by our results that indicate in some cell types, individual cell clones can have dramatically differing capacity for retrotransposition. The mixed populations of cells commonly used in laboratories have often been passaged for many generations and accumulated significant genetic and epigenetic diversity. Our results suggest that the clonal variability observed by our cloning experiments may lead to a homogenization of retrotransposition capacity, with the resulting mixed population of cells being composed of individual variants having either increased or decreased retrotransposition potential compared to the starting population.