New insights into the functional role of retrotransposon dynamics in mammalian somatic cells

Arianna Mangiavacchi, Peng Liu, Francesco Della Valle, Valerio Orlando*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Retrotransposons are genetic elements present across all eukaryotic genomes. While their role in evolution is considered as a potentially beneficial natural source of genetic variation, their activity is classically considered detrimental due to their potentially harmful effects on genome stability. However, studies are increasingly shedding light on the regulatory function and beneficial role of somatic retroelement reactivation in non-pathological contexts. Here, we review recent findings unveiling the regulatory potential of retrotransposons, including their role in noncoding RNA transcription, as modulators of mammalian transcriptional and epigenome landscapes. We also discuss technical challenges in deciphering the multifaceted activity of retrotransposable elements, highlighting an unforeseen central role of this neglected portion of the genome both in early development and in adult life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5245-5256
Number of pages12
JournalCellular and Molecular Life Sciences
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to Prof. Christian Froekjaer Jensen for the fruitful discussion and for his contribution to the editing of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Cell identity
  • Development
  • Gene expression
  • Repetitive RNA
  • Retrotransposon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Pharmacology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cell Biology


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