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Cell Cycle. 2010 Jan 1;9(1):69-74.

TERRA, CpG methylation and telomere heterochromatin: lessons from ICF syndrome cells.

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The Wistar Institute, Philadelphia, PA, USA.


Self-reinforcing negative feedback loops are commonly observed in biological systems. RNA-mediated negative feedback loops have been described in the formation of heterochromatin at centromeres in fission yeast and the inactive X chromosome in mammalian cells. The telomere repeat-containing RNA (TERRA) has also been implicated in the formation of telomeric heterochromatin through a self-reinforcing negative feedback loop. In cells derived from human ICF syndrome, TERRA levels are abnormally elevated and telomeres are abnormally shortened. We now show that telomere heterochromatin is also abnormal in ICF cells. We propose that ICF cells fail to reinforce the TERRA-dependent negative feedback loop as a result of the inability to establish heterochromatin at subtelomeres. This failure is likely due to the lack of DNMT3b and DNA methylation, which is a genetic lesion associated with ICF syndrome. Failure of this feedback mechanism leads to catastrophic telomere dysfunction and chromosome instability.

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