The densities of transposable elements (TEs) in the human genome display substantial variation both within individual chromosomes and among chromosome types (autosomes and the two sex chromosomes). Finding an explanation for this variability has been challenging, especially in light of genome landscapes unique to the sex chromosomes. Here, using a multiple regression framework, we investigate primate Alu and L1 densities shaped by regional genome features and location on a particular chromosome type. As a result of our analysis, first, we build statistical models explaining up to 79% and 44% of variation in Alu and L1 element density, respectively. Second, we analyze sex chromosome versus autosome TE densities corrected for regional genomic effects. We discover that sex-chromosome bias in Alu and L1 distributions not only persists after accounting for these effects, but even presents differences in patterns, confirming preferential Alu integration in the male germline, yet likely integration of L1s in both male and female germlines or in early embryogenesis. Additionally, our models reveal that local base composition (measured by GC content and density of L1 target sites) and natural selection (inferred via density of most conserved elements) are significant to predicting densities of L1s. Interestingly, measurements of local double-stranded breaks (a 13-mer associated with genome instability) strongly correlate with densities of Alu elements; little evidence was found for the role of recombination-driven deletion in driving TE distributions over evolutionary time. Thus, Alu and L1 densities have been influenced by the combination of distinct local genome landscapes and the unique evolutionary dynamics of sex chromosomes.
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