Telomeres, the repetitive sequences of DNA at the ends of linear chromosomes, have an important function: They protect vulnerable chromosome ends from molecular attack. Researchers at Rockefeller University now show that telomeres have their own weakness. They resemble unstable parts of the genome called fragile sites where DNA replication can stall and go awry. But what keeps our fragile telomeres from falling apart is a protein that ensures the smooth progression of DNA replication to the end of a chromosome.
The research, led by Titia de Lange, head of the Laboratory of Cell Biology and Genetics, and first author Agnel Sfeir, a postdoctoral associate in the lab, suggests a striking similarity between telomeres and common fragile sites, parts of the genome where breaks tend to occur, albeit infrequently. (Humans have 80 common fragile sites, many of which have been linked to cancer.) De Lange and Sfeir found that these newly discovered fragile sites make it difficult for DNA replication to proceed, a discovery that unveils a new replication problem posed by telomeres.
At the center of the discovery is a protein known as TRF1, which de Lange, in an effort to understand how telomeres protect chromosome ends, discovered in 1995. Using a conditional mouse knockout, de Lange and Sfeir have now revealed that TRF1, which is part of a six-protein complex called shelterin, enables DNA replication to drive smoothly through telomeres with the aid of two other proteins.
"Telomeric DNA has a repetitive sequence that can form unusual DNA structures when the DNA is unwound during DNA replication," says de Lange. "Our data suggest that TRF1 brings in two proteins that can take out these structures in the telomeric DNA. In other words, TRF1 and its helpers remove the bumps in the road so that the replication fork can drive through."
The work, published in the July 10 issue of Cell, began when Sfeir deleted TRF1 and saw that the tel
|Contact: Thania Benios|