Mammalian genomes are littered with enormous numbers of transposable elements interspersed within and between single-copy endogenous genes. The only presently spreading class of human transposable elements comprises non-LTR (long terminal repeat) retrotransposons, which cover approx. 34% of the human genome. Non-LTR retrotransposons include the widespread autonomous LINEs (long interspersed nuclear elements) and non-autonomous elements such as processed pseudogenes, SVAs [named after SINE (short interspersed nuclear element), VNTR (variable number of tandem repeats) and Alu] and SINEs. Mobilization of these elements affects the host genome, can be deleterious to the host cell, and cause genetic disorders and cancer. In order to limit negative effects of retrotransposition, host genomes have adopted several strategies to curb the proliferation of transposable elements. Recent studies have demonstrated that members of the human APOBEC3 (apolipoprotein B mRNA editing enzyme catalytic polypeptide 3) protein family inhibit the mobilization of the non-LTR retrotransposons LINE-1 and Alu significantly and participate in the intracellular defence against retrotransposition by mechanisms unknown to date. The striking coincidence between the expansion of the APOBEC3 gene cluster and the abrupt decline in retrotransposon activity in primates raises the possibility that these genes may have been expanded to prevent genomic instability caused by endogenous retroelements.

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