A repetitive elements perspective in Polycomb epigenetics

Valentina Casa, Davide Gabellini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Repetitive elements comprise over two-thirds of the human genome. For a long time, these elements have received little attention since they were considered non-functional. On the contrary, recent evidence indicates that they play central roles in genome integrity, gene expression, and disease. Indeed, repeats display meiotic instability associated with disease and are located within common fragile sites, which are hotspots of chromosome re-arrangements in tumors. Moreover, a variety of diseases have been associated with aberrant transcription of repetitive elements. Overall this indicates that appropriate regulation of repetitive elements' activity is fundamental. Polycomb group (PcG) proteins are epigenetic regulators that are essential for the normal development of multicellular organisms. Mammalian PcG proteins are involved in fundamental processes, such as cellular memory, cell proliferation, genomic imprinting, X-inactivation, and cancer development. PcG proteins can convey their activity through long-distance interactions also on different chromosomes. This indicates that the 3D organization of PcG proteins contributes significantly to their function. However, it is still unclear how these complex mechanisms are orchestrated and which role PcG proteins play in the multi-level organization of gene regulation. Intriguingly, the greatest proportion of Polycomb-mediated chromatin modifications is located in genomic repeats and it has been suggested that they could provide a binding platform for Polycomb proteins. Here, these lines of evidence are woven together to discuss how repetitive elements could contribute to chromatin organization in the 3D nuclear space.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberArticle 199
JournalFrontiers in Genetics
Issue numberOCT
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • FSHD muscular dystrophy
  • Non-protein-coding RNA
  • Nuclear structure
  • Polycomb
  • Repeats

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Genetics(clinical)


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