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WRN loss induces switching of telomerase-independent mechanisms of telomere elongation.

Authors: April Renee Sandy AR. Gocha, Samir S. Acharya, Joanna J. Groden
Published: 04/07/2014, PloS one


Telomere maintenance can occur in the presence of telomerase or in its absence, termed alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT). ALT adds telomere repeats using recombination-based processes and DNA repair proteins that function in homologous recombination. Our previous work reported that the RecQ-like BLM helicase is required for ALT and that it unwinds telomeric substrates in vitro. WRN is also a RecQ-like helicase that shares many biochemical functions with BLM. WRN interacts with BLM, unwinds telomeric substrates, and co-localizes to ALT-associated PML bodies (APBs), suggesting that it may also be required for ALT processes. Using long-term siRNA knockdown of WRN in three ALT cell lines, we show that some, but not all, cell lines require WRN for telomere maintenance. VA-13 cells require WRN to prevent telomere loss and for the formation of APBs; Saos-2 cells do not. A third ALT cell line, U-2 OS, requires WRN for APB formation, however WRN loss results in p53-mediated apoptosis. In the absence of WRN and p53, U-2 OS cells undergo telomere loss for an intermediate number of population doublings (50-70), at which point they maintain telomere length even with the continued loss of WRN. WRN and the tumor suppressor BRCA1 co-localize to APBs in VA-13 and U-2 OS, but not in Saos-2 cells. WRN loss in U-2 OS is associated with a loss of BRCA1 from APBs. While the loss of WRN significantly increases telomere sister chromatid exchanges (T-SCE) in these three ALT cell lines, loss of both BRCA1 and WRN does not significantly alter T-SCE. This work demonstrates that ALT cell lines use different telomerase-independent maintenance mechanisms that variably require the WRN helicase and that some cells can switch from one mechanism to another that permits telomere elongation in the absence of WRN. Our data suggest that BRCA1 localization may define these mechanisms.

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