Background: A significant portion of expressed non-coding RNAs in human cells is derived from transposable elements (TEs). Moreover, it has been shown that various long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs), which come from the human endogenous retrovirus subfamily H (HERVH), are not only expressed but required for pluripotency in human embryonic stem cells (hESCs).
Results: To identify additional TE-derived functional non-coding transcripts, we generated RNA-seq data from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) of four primate species (human, chimpanzee, gorilla, and rhesus) and searched for transcripts whose expression was conserved. We observed that about 30% of TE instances expressed in human iPSCs had orthologous TE instances that were also expressed in chimpanzee and gorilla. Notably, our analysis revealed a number of repeat families with highly conserved expression profiles including HERVH but also MER53, which is known to be the source of a placental-specific family of microRNAs (miRNAs). We also identified a number of repeat families from all classes of TEs, including MLT1-type and Tigger families, that contributed a significant amount of sequence to primate lncRNAs whose expression was conserved.
Conclusions: Together, these results describe TE families and TE-derived lncRNAs whose conserved expression patterns can be used to identify what are likely functional TE-derived non-coding transcripts in primate iPSCs.
Keywords: Induced pluripotent stem cells; Long non-coding RNAs; Transposable elements.