The Xist lncRNA mediates X chromosome inactivation (XCI)1,2. Here we show that Spen, an Xist-binding repressor protein essential for XCI3-9, binds to ancient retroviral RNA, performing a surveillance role to recruit chromatin silencing machinery to these parasitic loci. Spen inactivation activates a subset of endogenous retroviral (ERV) elements in mouse embryonic stem cells, with gain of chromatin accessibility, active histone modifications, and ERV RNA transcription. Spen binds directly to ERV RNAs that show structural similarity to the A-repeat of Xist, a region critical for Xist-mediated gene silencing10-11. ERV RNA and Xist A-repeat bind the RRM domains of Spen in a competitive manner. Insertion of an ERV into an A-repeat deficient Xist rescues binding of Xist RNA to Spen and results in strictly local gene silencing in cis. These results suggest that Xist may coopt transposable element RNA-protein interactions to repurpose powerful antiviral chromatin silencing machinery for sex chromosome dosage compensation.
View details for DOI 10.7554/eLife.54508
View details for PubMedID 32379046