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Ciba Found Symp. 1997;211:2-13; discussion 15-9.

The telomere and telomerase: how do they interact?

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of California, San Francisco 94143-0414, USA.


The tandemly repeated DNA sequence of telomeres is typically specified by the ribonucleoprotein enzyme telomerase. Telomerase copies part of its intrinsic RNA moiety to make one strand of the telomeric repeat DNA. Recent work has led to the concept of a telomere homeostasis system. We have been studying two key physical components of this system: the telomere itself and telomerase. Mutating the template sequence of telomerase RNA caused various phenotypes: (1) mutating specific residues in the ciliate Tetrahymena and two yeasts showed that they are required for critical aspects of telomerase action; (2) certain mutated telomeric sequences caused a previously unreported phenotype, i.e. a strong anaphase block in Tetrahymena micronuclei; and (3) certain template mutations in the telomerase RNA gene of the yeast Kluyveromyces lactis led to unregulated telomere elongation, which in some cases was directly related to loss of binding to K. lactis Rap1p. Using K. lactis carrying alterations in the genes for Rap1p and other silencing components, we proposed a general model for telomere length homeostasis: namely, that the structure and DNA length of the DNA-protein complex that comprises the telomere are key determinants of telomerase access, and hence the frequency of action of telomerase, at the telomere.

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