The proposed work is aimed at unraveling the molecular mechanism by which telomeres prevent the activation of DNA damage signaling pathways at chromosome ends. The loss of telomere protection and the resulting signaling by DNA damage response pathways is the root cause of the premature aging symptoms in Dyskeratosis congenita and other telomeropathies. Furthermore, telomere dysfunction is a key factor in the early stages of cancer, a disease strongly correlated with aging. Our work in the past funding period has illuminated how the telomere associated shelterin complex blocks the activation of the ATM and ATR kinase signaling cascades at chromosome ends. Using genetically modified mouse embryo fibroblasts (MEFs) with conditional alleles for the seven mouse shelterin factors, we have determined which shelterin subunits are required for the repression of the ATM and ATR pathways. This work has revealed a remarkable division of labor within shelterin where TRF2 is primarily responsible for the repression of ATM signaling whereas the POT1 proteins repress the ATR pathway. Using super-resolution STORM imaging in combination with a new chromatin spreading method, we have provided evidence that TRF2 represses the ATM kinase pathway through remodeling telomeres into the t-loop configuration. We have also provided evidence that the POT1 proteins repress ATR signaling through the exclusion of RPA, the single-stranded DNA sensor of the ATR pathway.
In AIMs 1 and 2 of the current proposal, we will further test these two models. We propose to use our extensive collection of genetically modified MEFs in combination with STORM imaging, specifically engineered shelterin rescuing alleles, cell biological tests for the DNA damage response, and biochemical approaches with purified shelterin to test the t-loop model for ATM repression and the RPA-exclusion model for ATR repression. This work will be complemented with TALENs-mediated deletion of shelterin proteins in human cells to verify that data obtained with our mouse models are consistent with the human setting.
In AIM 3, we will initiate a new line of investigation to determine how shelterin represses a third threat to telomeres - the activation of the poly(ADP-ribose)polymerases (PARPs) that can sense single- and double-stranded DNA breaks. Our recent data established that PARP1 is activated at dysfunctional telomeres, raising the question of how this powerful and potentially dangerous enzyme activity is normally repressed at functional telomeres. These experiments are designed to reveal the fundamental principles of telomere function in human and mouse cells with the objective to understand how loss of telomere function affects human health and aging diseases.

Public Health Relevance

Telomeres are essential for the protection of the genetic material. Loss of telomere protection is the proximal cause of several life-threatening inherited aging disorders and plays a major role in the development of cancer. This project aims to reveal the molecular basis of telomere function with the long-term goal to gain deeper insight into how diminished telomere protection contributes to human aging and disease.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Research Project (R01)
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Molecular Genetics B Study Section (MGB)
Program Officer
Guo, Max
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Rockefeller University
Anatomy/Cell Biology
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New York
United States
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Frescas, David; de Lange, Titia (2014) A TIN2 dyskeratosis congenita mutation causes telomerase-independent telomere shortening in mice. Genes Dev 28:153-66
Frescas, David; de Lange, Titia (2014) TRF2-tethered TIN2 can mediate telomere protection by TPP1/POT1. Mol Cell Biol 34:1349-62
Zimmermann, Michal; de Lange, Titia (2014) 53BP1: pro choice in DNA repair. Trends Cell Biol 24:108-17
Kabir, Shaheen; Hockemeyer, Dirk; de Lange, Titia (2014) TALEN gene knockouts reveal no requirement for the conserved human shelterin protein Rap1 in telomere protection and length regulation. Cell Rep 9:1273-80
Frescas, David; de Lange, Titia (2014) Binding of TPP1 protein to TIN2 protein is required for POT1a,b protein-mediated telomere protection. J Biol Chem 289:24180-7
Doksani, Ylli; Wu, John Y; de Lange, Titia et al. (2013) Super-resolution fluorescence imaging of telomeres reveals TRF2-dependent T-loop formation. Cell 155:345-56
Ahmed, Emad A; Sfeir, Agnel; Takai, Hiroyuki et al. (2013) Ku70 and non-homologous end joining protect testicular cells from DNA damage. J Cell Sci 126:3095-104
Takai, Kaori K; Kibe, Tatsuya; Donigian, Jill R et al. (2011) Telomere protection by TPP1/POT1 requires tethering to TIN2. Mol Cell 44:647-59
Scherthan, Harry; Sfeir, Agnel; de Lange, Titia (2011) Rap1-independent telomere attachment and bouquet formation in mammalian meiosis. Chromosoma 120:151-7
Davoli, Teresa; de Lange, Titia (2011) The causes and consequences of polyploidy in normal development and cancer. Annu Rev Cell Dev Biol 27:585-610

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