U6 snRNA Pseudogenes: Markers of Retrotransposition Dynamics in Mammals
L1 retrotransposons have a prominent role in reshaping mammalian genomes. To replicate, the L1 ribonucleoprotein particle (RNP) first uses its endonuclease (EN) to nick the genomic DNA. The newly generated DNA end is subsequently used as a primer to initiate reverse transcription within the L1 RNA poly(A) tail, a process known as target-primed reverse transcription (TPRT). Prior studies demonstrated that most L1 insertions occur into sequences related to the L1 EN consensus sequence (degenerate 5'-TTTT/A-3' sites) and frequently preceded by imperfect T-tracts. However, it is currently unclear whether--and to which degree--the liberated 3'-hydroxyl extremity on the genomic DNA needs to be accessible and complementary to the poly(A) tail of the L1 RNA for efficient priming of reverse transcription. Here, we employed a direct assay for the initiation of L1 reverse transcription to define the molecular rules that guide this process. First, efficient priming is detected with as few as 4 matching nucleotides at the primer 3' end. Second, L1 RNP can tolerate terminal mismatches if they are compensated within the 10 last bases of the primer by an increased number of matching nucleotides. All terminal mismatches are not equally detrimental to DNA extension, a C being extended at higher levels than an A or a G. Third, efficient priming in the context of duplex DNA requires a 3' overhang. This suggests the possible existence of additional DNA processing steps, which generate a single-stranded 3' end to allow L1 reverse transcription. Based on these data we propose that the specificity of L1 reverse transcription initiation contributes, together with the specificity of the initial EN cleavage, to the distribution of new L1 insertions within the human genome.