Long interspersed nuclear elements [LINE-1 (L1)] are abundant retrotransposons in mammalian genomes that remain silent under most conditions. Cellular stress signals activate L1, but the molecular mechanisms controlling L1 activation remain unclear. Evidence is presented here that benzo(a) pyrene (BaP), an environmental hydrocarbon metabolized by mammalian cytochrome P450s to reactive carcinogenic intermediates, increases L1 retrotransposition in HeLa cells. Increased retrotransposition is mediated by up-regulation of L1 RNA levels, increased L1 cDNA synthesis, and stable genomic integration. Activation of L1 is dependent on the ability of BaP to cause DNA damage because it is absent in HeLa cells challenged with nongenotoxic hydrocarbon carcinogens. Thus, the mutations and genomic instability observed in human populations exposed to genotoxic environmental hydrocarbons may involve epigenetic activation of mobile elements dispersed throughout the human genome.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research