Novel principles of gamma-retroviral insertional transcription activation in murine leukemia virus-induced end-stage tumors

Author: Martin Sokol

Insertional mutagenesis screens of retrovirus-induced mouse tumors have proven valuable in human cancer research and for understanding adverse effects of retroviral-based gene therapies. In previous studies, the assignment of mouse genes to individual retroviral integration sites has been based on close proximity and expression patterns of annotated genes at target positions in the genome. We here employed next-generation RNA sequencing to map retroviral-mouse chimeric junctions genome-wide, and to identify local patterns of transcription activation in T-lymphomas induced by the murine leukemia gamma-retrovirus SL3-3. Moreover, to determine epigenetic integration preferences underlying long-range gene activation by retroviruses, the colocalization propensity with common epigenetic enhancer markers (H3K4Me1 and H3K27Ac) of 6,117 integrations derived from end-stage tumors of more than 2,000 mice was examined.
We detected several novel mechanisms of retroviral insertional mutagenesis: bidirectional activation of mouse transcripts on opposite sides of a provirus including transcription of unannotated mouse sequence; sense/antisense-type activation of genes located on opposite DNA strands; tandem-type activation of distal genes that are positioned adjacently on the same DNA strand; activation of genes that are not the direct integration targets; combination-type insertional mutagenesis, in which enhancer activation, alternative chimeric splicing and retroviral promoter insertion are induced by a single retrovirus. We also show that irrespective of the distance to transcription start sites, the far majority of retroviruses in end-stage tumors colocalize with H3K4Me1 and H3K27Ac-enriched regions in murine lymphoid tissues.
We expose novel retrovirus-induced host transcription activation patterns that reach beyond a single and nearest annotated gene target. Awareness of this previously undescribed layer of complexity may prove important for elucidation of adverse effects in retroviral-based gene therapies. We also show that wild-type gamma-retroviruses are frequently positioned at enhancers, suggesting that integration into regulatory regions is specific and also subject to positive selection for sustaining long-range gene activation in end-stage tumors. Altogether, this study should prove useful for extrapolating adverse outcomes of retroviral vector therapies, and for understanding fundamental cellular regulatory principles and retroviral biology.
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