Novel Bioinformatics Approach Identifies Transcriptional Profiles of Lineage-Specific Transposable Elements at Distinct Loci in the Human Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex


Expression of transposable elements (TE) is transiently activated during human preimplantation embryogenesis in a developmental stage- and cell type-specific manner and TE-mediated epigenetic regulation is intrinsically wired in developmental genetic networks in human embryos and embryonic stem cells. However, there are no systematic studies devoted to a comprehensive analysis of the TE transcriptome in human adult organs and tissues, including human neural tissues. To investigate TE expression in the human Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex (DLPFC), we developed and validated a straightforward analytical approach to chart quantitative genome-wide expression profiles of all annotated TE loci based on unambiguous mapping of discrete TE-encoded transcripts using a de novo assembly strategy. To initially evaluate the potential regulatory impact of DLPFC-expressed TE, we adopted a comparative evolutionary genomics approach across humans, primates, and rodents to document conservation patterns, lineage-specificity, and colocalizations with transcription factor binding sites mapped within primate- and human-specific TE. We identified 654,665 transcripts expressed from 477,507 distinct loci of different TE classes and families, the majority of which appear to have originated from primate-specific sequences. We discovered 4,687 human-specific and transcriptionally active TEs in DLPFC, of which the prominent majority (80.2%) appears spliced. Our analyses revealed significant associations of DLPFC-expressed TE with primate- and human-specific transcription factor binding sites, suggesting potential cross-talks of concordant regulatory functions. We identified 1,689 TEs differentially expressed in the DLPFC of Schizophrenia patients, a majority of which is located within introns of 1,137 protein-coding genes. Our findings imply that identified DLPFC-expressed TEs may affect human brain structures and functions following different evolutionary trajectories. On one side, hundreds of thousands of TEs maintained a remarkably high conservation for ∼8 My of primates’ evolution, suggesting that they are likely conveying evolutionary-constrained primate-specific regulatory functions. In parallel, thousands of transcriptionally active human-specific TE loci emerged more recently, suggesting that they could be relevant for human-specific behavioral or cognitive functions.

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