The Drosophila non-long terminal repeat (non-LTR) retrotransposons TART and HeT-A specifically retrotranspose to chromosome ends to maintain Drosophila telomeric DNA. Relatively little is known, though, about the regulation of their expression and their retrotransposition to telomeres. We have used rapid amplification of cDNA ends (RACE) to identify multiple transcription initiation and polyadenylation sites for sense and antisense transcripts of three subfamilies of TART elements in Drosophila melanogaster. These results are consistent with the production of an array of TART transcripts. In contrast to other Drosophila non-LTR elements, a major initiation site for sense transcripts was mapped near the 3′ end of the TART 5′-untranslated region (5′-UTR), rather than at the start of the 5′-UTR. A sequence overlapping this sense start site contains a good match to an initiator consensus for the transcription start sites of Drosophila LTR retrotransposons. Interestingly, analysis of 5′ RACE products for antisense transcripts and the GenBank EST database revealed that TART antisense transcripts contain multiple introns. Our results highlight differences between transcription of TART and of other Drosophila non-LTR elements and they provide a foundation for testing the relationship between exceptional aspects of TART transcription and TART's specialized role at telomeres.
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