LTR-Retrotransposon Control by tRNA-Derived Small RNAs

Cell. 2017 Jun 29;170(1):61-71.e11. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.06.013.


Transposon reactivation is an inherent danger in cells that lose epigenetic silencing during developmental reprogramming. In the mouse, long terminal repeat (LTR)-retrotransposons, or endogenous retroviruses (ERV), account for most novel insertions and are expressed in the absence of histone H3 lysine 9 trimethylation in preimplantation stem cells. We found abundant 18 nt tRNA-derived small RNA (tRF) in these cells and ubiquitously expressed 22 nt tRFs that include the 3' terminal CCA of mature tRNAs and target the tRNA primer binding site (PBS) essential for ERV reverse transcription. We show that the two most active ERV families, IAP and MusD/ETn, are major targets and are strongly inhibited by tRFs in retrotransposition assays. 22 nt tRFs post-transcriptionally silence coding-competent ERVs, while 18 nt tRFs specifically interfere with reverse transcription and retrotransposon mobility. The PBS offers a unique target to specifically inhibit LTR-retrotransposons, and tRF-targeting is a potentially highly conserved mechanism of small RNA-mediated transposon control.

Keywords: LTR-retrotransposon mobility; epigenetic reprogramming; mouse endogenous retroviruses; small RNA; tRNA fragments; transposon control.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gene Silencing*
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • RNA, Small Untranslated / metabolism*
  • RNA, Transfer / metabolism*
  • Retroviridae / genetics*
  • Stem Cells / virology*
  • Terminal Repeat Sequences


  • RNA, Small Untranslated
  • RNA, Transfer