Telomerase is a ribonucleoprotein complex required for the replication and protection of telomeric DNA in eukaryotes. Cells lacking telomerase undergo a progressive loss of telomeric DNA that results in loss of viability and a concomitant increase in genome instability. We have used budding yeast to investigate the relationship between telomerase deficiency and the generation of chromosomal translocations, a common characteristic of cancer cells. Telomerase deficiency increased the rate of formation of spontaneous translocations by homologous recombination involving telomere proximal sequences during crisis. However, telomerase deficiency also decreased the frequency of translocation formation following multiple HO-endonuclease catalyzed DNA double-strand breaks at telomere proximal or distal sequences before, during and after crisis. This decrease correlated with a sequestration of the central homologous recombination factor, Rad52, to telomeres determined by chromatin immuno-precipitation. This suggests that telomerase deficiency results in the sequestration of Rad52 to telomeres, limiting the capacity of the cell to repair double-strand breaks throughout the genome. Increased spontaneous translocation formation in telomerase-deficient yeast cells undergoing crisis is consistent with the increased incidence of cancer in elderly humans, as the majority of our cells lack telomerase. Decreased translocation formation by recombinational repair of double-strand breaks in telomerase-deficient yeast suggests that the reemergence of telomerase expression observed in many human tumors may further stimulate genome rearrangement. Thus, telomerase may exert a substantial effect on global genome stability, which may bear significantly on the appearance and progression of cancer in humans.
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