© 2015 The Authors. Published under the terms of the CC BY 4.0 license.
Loss of telomere protection occurs during physiological cell senescence and ageing, due to attrition of telomeric repeats and insufficient retention of the telomere-binding factor TRF2. Subsequently formed telomere fusions trigger rampant genomic instability leading to cell death or tumorigenesis. Mechanistically, telomere fusions require either the classical non-homologous end-joining (C-NHEJ) pathway dependent on Ku70/80 and LIG4, or the alternative non-homologous end-joining (A-NHEJ), which relies on PARP1 and LIG3. Here, we show that the tumour suppressor BRCA1, together with its interacting partner CtIP, both acting in end resection, also promotes end-joining of uncapped telomeres. BRCA1 and CtIP do not function in the ATM-dependent telomere damage signalling, nor in telomere overhang removal, which are critical for telomere fusions by C-NHEJ. Instead, BRCA1 and CtIP act in the same pathway as LIG3 to promote joining of de-protected telomeres by A-NHEJ. Our work therefore ascribes novel roles for BRCA1 and CtIP in end-processing and fusion reactions at uncapped telomeres, underlining the complexity of DNA repair pathways that act at chromosome ends lacking protective structures. Moreover, A-NHEJ provides a mechanism of previously unanticipated significance in telomere dysfunction-induced genome instability.