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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Sep 13;108(37):15207-12. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1105414108. Epub 2011 Aug 24.

Different telomere-length dynamics at the inner cell mass versus established embryonic stem (ES) cells.

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Telomeres and Telomerase Group, Spanish National Cancer Research Centre, Madrid E-28029, Spain.


Murine embryonic stem (ES) cells have unusually long telomeres, much longer than those in embryonic tissues. Here we address whether hyper-long telomeres are a natural property of pluripotent stem cells, such as those present at the blastocyst inner cell mass (ICM), or whether it is a characteristic acquired by the in vitro expansion of ES cells. We find that ICM cells undergo telomere elongation during the in vitro derivation of ES-cell lines. In vivo analysis shows that the hyper-long telomeres of morula-injected ES cells remain hyper-long at the blastocyst stage and longer than telomeres of the blastocyst ICM. Telomere lengthening during derivation of ES-cell lines is concomitant with a decrease in heterochromatic marks at telomeres. We also found increased levels of the telomere repeat binding factor 1 (TRF1) telomere-capping protein in cultured ICM cells before telomere elongation occurs, coinciding with expression of pluripotency markers. These results suggest that high TRF1 levels are present in pluripotent cells, most likely to ensure proficient capping of the newly synthesized telomeres. These results highlight a previously unnoticed difference between ICM cells at the blastocyst and ES cells, and suggest that abnormally long telomeres in ES cells are likely to result from continuous telomere lengthening of proliferating ICM cells locked at an epigenetic state associated to pluripotency.

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