The Long interspersed element 1 (LINE1 or L1) retrotransposon constitutes 17% of the human genome. There are currently 80-100 human L1 elements that are thought to be active in any diploid human genome. These elements can mobilize into new locations of the genome, resulting in changes in genomic information. Active L1s are thus considered to be a type of endogenous mutagen, and L1 insertions can cause disease. Certain stresses, such as gamma radiation, oxidative stress, and treatment with some agents, can induce transcription and/or mobilization of retrotransposons. In this study, we used a reporter gene assay in HepG2 cells to screen compounds for the potential to enhance the transcription of human L1. We assessed 95 compounds including genotoxic agents, substances that induce cellular stress, and commercially available drugs. Treatment with 15 compounds increased the L1 promoter activity by >1.5-fold (p<0.05) after 6 or 24 hours of treatment. In particular, genotoxic agents (benzo[a]pyrene, camptothecin, cytochalasin D, merbarone, and vinblastine), PPARα agonists (bezafibrate and fenofibrate), and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (diflunisal, flufenamic acid, salicylamide, and sulindac) induced L1 promoter activity. To examine their effects on L1 retrotransposition, we developed a high-throughput real-time retrotransposition assay using a novel secreted Gaussia luciferase reporter cassette. Three compounds (etomoxir, WY-14643, and salicylamide) produced a significant enhancement in L1 retrotransposition. This is the first study to report the effects of a wide variety of compounds on L1 transcription and retrotransposition. These results suggest that certain chemical- and drug-induced stresses might have the potential to cause genomic mutations by inducing L1 mobilization. Thus, the risk of induced L1 transcription and retrotransposition should be considered during drug safety evaluation and environmental risk assessments of chemicals.
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