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Silence at the End: How Drosophila Regulates Expression and Transposition of Telomeric Retroelements

Cacchione, Stefano, Cenci, Giovanni, Raffa, Grazia Daniela
Journal of molecular biology 2020 v.432 no.15 pp. 4305-4321
Drosophila, chromatin, enzyme activity, eukaryotic cells, gene silencing, retrotransposons, telomerase, telomeres, transcription (genetics), transposition (genetics), transposons
The maintenance of chromosome ends in Drosophila is an exceptional phenomenon because it relies on the transposition of specialized retrotransposons rather than on the activity of the enzyme telomerase that maintains telomeres in almost every other eukaryotic species. Sequential transpositions of Het-A, TART, and TAHRE (HTT) onto chromosome ends produce long head-to-tail arrays that are reminiscent to the long arrays of short repeats produced by telomerase in other organisms. Coordinating the activation and silencing of the HTT array with the recruitment of telomere capping proteins favors proper telomere function. However, how this coordination is achieved is not well understood. Like other Drosophila retrotransposons, telomeric elements are regulated by the piRNA pathway. Remarkably, HTT arrays are both source of piRNA and targets of gene silencing thus making the regulation of Drosophila telomeric transposons a unique event among eukaryotes. Herein we will review the genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying the regulation of HTT transcription and transposition and will discuss the possibility of a crosstalk between piRNA-mediated regulation, telomeric chromatin establishment, and telomere protection.