The developmental control of transposable elements and the evolution of higher species

Annu Rev Cell Dev Biol. 2015;31:429-51. doi: 10.1146/annurev-cellbio-100814-125514. Epub 2015 Sep 17.


Transposable elements (TEs) account for at least 50% of the human genome. They constitute essential motors of evolution through their ability to modify genomic architecture, mutate genes and regulate gene expression. Accordingly, TEs are subject to tight epigenetic control during the earliest phases of embryonic development via histone and DNA methylation. Key to this process is recognition by sequence-specific RNA- and protein-based repressors. Collectively, these mediators are responsible for silencing a very broad range of TEs in an evolutionarily dynamic fashion. As a consequence, mobile elements and their controllers exert a marked influence on transcriptional networks in embryonic stem cells and a variety of adult tissues. The emerging picture is not that of a simple arms race but rather of a massive and sophisticated enterprise of TE domestication for the evolutionary benefit of the host.

Keywords: KAP1; KRAB-ZFP; endogenous retrovirus; endovirome; retrotransposon; transposable element.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution
  • DNA Transposable Elements / genetics*
  • Embryonic Development / genetics*
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / physiology
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Transcription, Genetic / genetics


  • DNA Transposable Elements