Currently, researchers rely on generalized methods to quantify transposable element (TE) RNA expression, such as RT-qPCR and RNA-seq, that do not distinguish between TEs expressed from their own promoter (bona fide) and TEs that are transcribed from a neighboring gene promoter such as within an intron or exon. This distinction is important owing to the differing functional roles of TEs depending on whether they are independently transcribed. Here we report a simple strategy to examine bona fide TE expression, termed BonaFide-TEseq. This approach can be used with any template-switch based library such as Smart-seq2 or the single-cell 5' gene expression kit from 10x, extending its utility to single-cell RNA-sequencing. This approach does not require TE-specific enrichment, enabling the simultaneous examination of TEs and protein-coding genes. We show that TEs identified through BonaFide-TEseq are expressed from their own promoter, rather than captured as internal products of genes. We reveal the utility of BonaFide-TEseq in the analysis of single-cell data and show that short-interspersed nuclear elements (SINEs) show cell type-specific expression profiles in the mouse hippocampus. We further show that, in response to a brief exposure of home-cage mice to a novel stimulus, SINEs are activated in dentate granule neurons in a time course that is similar to that of protein-coding immediate early genes. This work provides a simple alternative approach to assess bona fide TE transcription at single-cell resolution and provides a proof-of-concept using this method to identify SINE activation in a context that is relevant for normal learning and memory.
© 2020 Linker et al.; Published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.