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RNA-DNA hybrids support recombination-based telomere maintenance in fission yeast

By Yan Hu, Henrietta W Bennett, Na Liu, Martin Moravec, Jessica F. Williams, Claus M. Azzalin, Megan C. King

Posted 01 Nov 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/458968 (published DOI: 10.1534/genetics.119.302606)

A subset of cancers rely on telomerase-independent mechanisms to maintain their chromosome ends. The predominant “alternative lengthening of telomeres” pathway appears dependent on homology-directed repair (HDR) to maintain telomeric DNA. However, the molecular changes needed for cells to productively engage in telomeric HDR are poorly understood. To gain new insights into this transition, we monitored the state of telomeres during serial culture of fission yeast ( Schizosaccharomyces pombe ) lacking the telomerase recruitment factor Ccq1. Rad52 is loaded onto critically short telomeres shortly after germination despite continued telomere erosion, suggesting that recruitment of recombination factors is not sufficient to maintain telomeres in the absence of telomerase function. Instead, survivor formation coincides with the derepression of telomeric repeat-containing RNA (TERRA). In this context, degradation of TERRA associated with the telomere in the form of R-loops drives a severe growth crisis, ultimately leading to a novel type of survivor with linear chromosomes and altered cytological telomere characteristics, including the loss of the shelterin component Rap1 (but not the TRF1/TRF2 orthologue, Taz1) from the telomere. We demonstrate that deletion of Rap1 is protective in this context, preventing the growth crisis that is otherwise triggered by degradation of telomeric R-loops in survivors with linear chromosomes. These findings suggest that up-regulation of telomere-engaged TERRA or altered recruitment of shelterin components can support telomerase-independent telomere maintenance.

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