A transposon expression burst accompanies the activation of Y-chromosome fertility genes during Drosophila spermatogenesis

Nat Commun. 2021 Nov 25;12(1):6854. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-27136-4.


Transposable elements (TEs) must replicate in germline cells to pass novel insertions to offspring. In Drosophila melanogaster ovaries, TEs can exploit specific developmental windows of opportunity to evade host silencing and increase their copy numbers. However, TE activity and host silencing in the distinct cell types of Drosophila testis are not well understood. Here, we reanalyze publicly available single-cell RNA-seq datasets to quantify TE expression in the distinct cell types of the Drosophila testis. We develop a method for identification of TE and host gene expression modules and find that a distinct population of early spermatocytes expresses a large number of TEs at much higher levels than other germline and somatic components of the testes. This burst of TE expression coincides with the activation of Y chromosome fertility factors and spermatocyte-specific transcriptional regulators, as well as downregulation of many components of the piRNA pathway. The TEs expressed by this cell population are specifically enriched on the Y chromosome and depleted on the X chromosome, relative to other active TEs. These data suggest that some TEs may achieve high insertional activity in males by exploiting a window of opportunity for mobilization created by the activation of spermatocyte-specific and Y chromosome-specific transcriptional programs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Transposable Elements / genetics*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / cytology
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Expression
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Genes, Y-Linked / genetics
  • Male
  • Mutagenesis, Insertional
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • Spermatocytes / metabolism
  • Spermatogenesis / genetics*
  • Testis / cytology
  • Testis / metabolism
  • Y Chromosome / genetics*
  • Y Chromosome / metabolism


  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • RNA, Small Interfering