Transposable elements (TEs) are an abundant and rich genetic resource of regulatory sequences1–3. Cryptic regulatory elements within TEs can be epigenetically reactivated in cancer to influence oncogenesis in a process termed onco-exaptation4. However, the prevalence and impact of TE onco-exaptation events across cancer types are poorly characterized. Here, we analyzed 7,769 tumors and 625 normal datasets from 15 cancer types, identifying 129 TE cryptic promoter-activation events involving 106 oncogenes across 3,864 tumors. Furthermore, we interrogated the AluJb-LIN28B candidate: the genetic deletion of the TE eliminated oncogene expression, while dynamic DNA methylation modulated promoter activity, illustrating the necessity and sufficiency of a TE for oncogene activation. Collectively, our results characterize the global profile of TE onco-exaptation and highlight this prevalent phenomenon as an important mechanism for promiscuous oncogene activation and ultimately tumorigenesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)611-617
Number of pages7
JournalNature Genetics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019


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