The telomerase ribonucleoprotein (RNP) is required for maintaining telomeres, the specialized nucleoprotein structures that protect eukaryotic chromosome ends from aberrant processing and deleterious end-to-end fusion events. Telomerase catalyzes the processive extension of telomere DNA using a specialized catalytic mechanism that requires a strong functional interdependence of the telomerase RNA, telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT), and several additional protein subunits. The primary objective of this proposal is to elucidate how conserved structural domains within telomerase RNA and protein subunits coordinate the processes of telomerase RNP assembly and catalysis. To address the substantial challenges associated with structural analysis of telomerase we will study the telomerase complex from the well-established model organism Tetrahymena thermophila, using a multifaceted experimental strategy that combines single molecule biophysical techniques paired with computational, biochemical, and high-resolution structural approaches.
In aim 1, we will use chemical RNA probing and single molecule Forster resonance energy transfer (smFRET) to characterize the telomerase RNA solution structure and dynamics, respectively. Distance constraints that emerge from these experiments will be used to guide RNA structure prediction calculations in collaboration with Nikolai Ulyanov (UCSF).
In aim 2, we will determine the three dimensional organization of conserved RNA and protein domains within the core telomerase RNP using targeted-hydroxyl radical probing, smFRET-based structure measurements, and x-ray crystallography. This work will be conducted in collaboration with Kathleen Collins (UCB) and Harry Noller (UCSC).
In aim 3, we will exploit a novel single molecule telomerase structure-function assay to critically evaluate existing models for telomerase conformational dynamics during processive telomere DNA synthesis. In most cells, a progressive shortening of telomere length with each round of cell division provides a molecular signal for cell aging and regulates entry into permanent cell growth arrest. In contrast, cells possessing a high level of proliferative capacity (i.e. stem cells) maintain telomere length through the enzymatic action of telomerase. Understanding the molecular mechanism and regulation of telomerase is of direct medical significance because telomerase dysfunction contributes to human disease, including premature aging syndromes and the majority of cancers. Thus, telomerase research is motivated by the goal of developing novel approaches for diagnosing and treating telomerase-associated diseases.

Public Health Relevance

Telomerase is an essential enzyme required for maintaining telomeres, the protective capping structures found at chromosome ends. Telomerase defects arise in the majority (~90%) of human cancers and several premature aging syndromes. Thus, efforts to better understand the mechanism and regulation of telomerase are motivated by the goal of developing novel approaches for diagnosing and treating telomerase-associated diseases. To this end, this proposal aims to illuminate the structural properties of telomerase that underlie its unique cellular activity.

Agency
National Institute of Health (NIH)
Institute
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Type
Research Project (R01)
Project #
5R01GM095850-04
Application #
8586317
Study Section
Macromolecular Structure and Function B Study Section (MSFB)
Program Officer
Preusch, Peter C
Project Start
2010-12-15
Project End
2015-11-30
Budget Start
2013-12-01
Budget End
2014-11-30
Support Year
4
Fiscal Year
2014
Total Cost
$260,272
Indirect Cost
$80,272
Name
University of California Santa Cruz
Department
Chemistry
Type
Schools of Arts and Sciences
DUNS #
125084723
City
Santa Cruz
State
CA
Country
United States
Zip Code
95064
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Akiyama, Benjamin M; Gomez, Anastassia; Stone, Michael D (2013) A conserved motif in Tetrahymena thermophila telomerase reverse transcriptase is proximal to the RNA template and is essential for boundary definition. J Biol Chem 288:22141-9
Long, Xi; Parks, Joseph W; Bagshaw, Clive R et al. (2013) Mechanical unfolding of human telomere G-quadruplex DNA probed by integrated fluorescence and magnetic tweezers spectroscopy. Nucleic Acids Res 41:2746-55
Akiyama, Benjamin M; Stone, Michael D (2013) Structural biology: a solution to the telomerase puzzle. Nature 496:177-8
Akiyama, Benjamin M; Loper, John; Najarro, Kevin et al. (2012) The C-terminal domain of Tetrahymena thermophila telomerase holoenzyme protein p65 induces multiple structural changes in telomerase RNA. RNA 18:653-60
Hengesbach, Martin; Kim, Nak-Kyoon; Feigon, Juli et al. (2012) Single-molecule FRET reveals the folding dynamics of the human telomerase RNA pseudoknot domain. Angew Chem Int Ed Engl 51:5876-9
Hengesbach, Martin; Akiyama, Benjamin M; Stone, Michael D (2011) Single-molecule analysis of telomerase structure and function. Curr Opin Chem Biol 15:845-52
Berman, Andrea J; Akiyama, Benjamin M; Stone, Michael D et al. (2011) The RNA accordion model for template positioning by telomerase RNA during telomeric DNA synthesis. Nat Struct Mol Biol 18:1371-5