Cellular labeling of endogenous retrovirus replication (CLEVR) reveals de novo insertions of the gypsy retrotransposable element in cell culture and in both neurons and glial cells of aging fruit flies

by Yung-Heng Chang, Richard M. Keegan, Lisa Prazak, Josh Dubnau

Evidence is rapidly mounting that transposable element (TE) expression and replication may impact biology more widely than previously thought. This includes potential effects on normal physiology of somatic tissues and dysfunctional impacts in diseases associated with aging, such as cancer and neurodegeneration. Investigation of the biological impact of mobile elements in somatic cells will be greatly facilitated by the use of donor elements that are engineered to report de novo events in vivo. In multicellular organisms, reporter constructs demonstrating engineered long interspersed nuclear element (LINE-1; L1) mobilization have been in use for quite some time, and strategies similar to L1 retrotransposition reporter assays have been developed to report replication of Ty1 elements in yeast and mouse intracisternal A particle (IAP) long terminal repeat (LTR) retrotransposons in cultivated cells. We describe a novel approach termed cellular labeling of endogenous retrovirus replication (CLEVR), which reports replication of the gypsy element within specific cells in vivo in Drosophila. The gypsy-CLEVR reporter reveals gypsy replication both in cell culture and in individual neurons and glial cells of the aging adult fly. We also demonstrate that the gypsy-CLEVR replication rate is increased when the short interfering RNA (siRNA) silencing system is genetically disrupted. This CLEVR strategy makes use of universally conserved features of retroviruses and should be widely applicable to other LTR retrotransposons, endogenous retroviruses (ERVs), and exogenous retroviruses.

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