Tiwari, Bhavana and Jones, Amanda E and Caillet, Candace J and Das, Simantiand Royer, Stephanie K and Abrams, John M
p53 is a potent tumor suppressor and commonly mutated in human cancers. Recently, we demonstrated that p53 genes act to restrict retrotransposons in germline tissues of flies and fish but whether this activity is conserved in somatic human cells is not known. Here we show that p53 constitutively restrains human LINE1s by cooperatively engaging sites in the 5'UTR and stimulating local deposition of repressive histone marks at these transposons. Consistent with this, the elimination of p53 or the removal of corresponding binding sites in LINE1s, prompted these retroelements to become hyperactive. Concurrently, p53 loss instigated chromosomal rearrangements linked to LINE sequences and also provoked inflammatory programs that were dependent on reverse transcriptase produced from LINE1s. Taken together, our observations establish that p53 continuously operates at the LINE1 promoter to restrict autonomous copies of these mobile elements in human cells. Our results further suggest that constitutive restriction of these retroelements may help to explain tumor suppression encoded by p53, since erupting LINE1s produced acute oncogenic threats when p53 was absent.