The enemy within: An epigenetic role of retrotransposons in cancer initiation



This article proposes that cancers can be initiated by retrotransposon (RTN) activation through changes in the transcriptional regulation of nearby genes. I first detail the hypothesis and then discuss the nature of physiological stress(es) in RTN activation; the role of DNA demethylation in the initiation and propagation of new RTN states; the connection between ageing and cancer incidence and the involvement of activated RTNs in the chromosomal aberrations that feature in cancer progression. The hypothesis neither replaces nor invalidates other theories of cancer, in particular the somatic mutation theory, but helps clarify and unify much of the hitherto poorly integrated, complex phenomenology of cancer.