Transposable elements become active and mobile in the genomes of aging mammalian somatic tissues

Aging (Albany NY). 2013 Dec;5(12):867-83. doi: 10.18632/aging.100621.


Transposable elements (TEs) were discovered by Barbara McClintock in maize and have since been found to be ubiquitous in all living organisms. Transposition is mutagenic and organisms have evolved mechanisms to repress the activity of their endogenous TEs. Transposition in somatic cells is very low, but recent evidence suggests that it may be derepressed in some cases, such as cancer development. We have found that during normal aging several families of retrotransposable elements (RTEs) start being transcribed in mouse tissues. In advanced age the expression culminates in active transposition. These processes are counteracted by calorie restriction (CR), an intervention that slows down aging. Retrotransposition is also activated in age-associated, naturally occurring cancers in the mouse. We suggest that somatic retrotransposition is a hitherto unappreciated aging process. Mobilization of RTEs is likely to be an important contributor to the progressive dysfunction of aging cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Caloric Restriction
  • DNA Transposable Elements / genetics*
  • DNA Transposable Elements / physiology*
  • Deoxyribonucleases / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Genome*
  • Liver
  • Mice
  • Microsatellite Repeats
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism


  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Deoxyribonucleases