Remnants of ancient transposable elements (TEs) are abundant in mammalian genomes. These sequences harbor multiple regulatory motifs and hence are capable of influencing expression of host genes. In response to environmental changes, TEs are known to be released from epigenetic repression and to become transcriptionally active. Such activation could also lead to lineage-inappropriate activation of oncogenes, as one study described in Hodgkin lymphoma. However, little further evidence for this mechanism in other cancers has been reported. Here, we reanalyzed whole transcriptome data from a large cohort of patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) compared with normal B-cell centroblasts to detect genes ectopically expressed through activation of TE promoters. We have identified 98 such TE-gene chimeric transcripts that were exclusively expressed in primary DLBCL cases and confirmed several in DLBCL-derived cell lines. We further characterized a TE-gene chimeric transcript involving a fatty acid-binding protein gene (LTR2-FABP7), normally expressed in brain, that was ectopically expressed in a subset of DLBCL patients through the use of an endogenous retroviral LTR promoter of the LTR2 family. The LTR2-FABP7 chimeric transcript encodes a novel chimeric isoform of the protein with characteristics distinct from native FABP7. In vitro studies reveal a dependency for DLBCL cell line proliferation and growth on LTR2-FABP7 chimeric protein expression. Taken together, these data demonstrate the significance of TEs as regulators of aberrant gene expression in cancer and suggest that LTR2-FABP7 may contribute to the pathogenesis of DLBCL in a subgroup of patients.
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