RNA m 6 A modification orchestrates a LINE-1-host interaction that facilitates retrotransposition and contributes to long gene vulnerability

Cell Res. 2021 Jun 9. doi: 10.1038/s41422-021-00515-8. Online ahead of print.


The molecular basis underlying the interaction between retrotransposable elements (RTEs) and the human genome remains poorly understood. Here, we profiled N6-methyladenosine (m6A) deposition on nascent RNAs in human cells by developing a new method MINT-Seq, which revealed that many classes of RTE RNAs, particularly intronic LINE-1s (L1s), are strongly methylated. These m6A-marked intronic L1s (MILs) are evolutionarily young, sense-oriented to hosting genes, and are bound by a dozen RNA binding proteins (RBPs) that are putative novel readers of m6A-modified RNAs, including a nuclear matrix protein SAFB. Notably, m6A positively controls the expression of both autonomous L1s and co-transcribed L1 relics, promoting L1 retrotransposition. We showed that MILs preferentially reside in long genes with critical roles in DNA damage repair and sometimes in L1 suppression per se, where they act as transcriptional "roadblocks" to impede the hosting gene expression, revealing a novel host-weakening strategy by the L1s. In counteraction, the host uses the SAFB reader complex to bind m6A-L1s to reduce their levels, and to safeguard hosting gene transcription. Remarkably, our analysis identified thousands of MILs in multiple human fetal tissues, enlisting them as a novel category of cell-type-specific regulatory elements that often compromise transcription of long genes and confer their vulnerability in neurodevelopmental disorders. We propose that this m6A-orchestrated L1-host interaction plays widespread roles in gene regulation, genome integrity, human development and diseases.

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