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Structural Aspects of RecA-Dependent Homologous Strand Exchange Involving Human Telomeric DNA

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journal contribution
posted on 29.03.2005, 00:00 by Sima S. Zein, Stephen D. Levene
Telomeric DNA sequences in human cells and those of other vertebrates consist of long d(TTAGGG) repeats. In somatic cells, telomeres shorten every cell division with shortening serving as a mitotic clock that counts cell divisions and ultimately results in cellular senescence. Telomere length is principally maintained by a ribonucleoprotein, telomerase. However, a non-negligible proportion of human cells use a recombination-based mechanism for telomere maintenance, termed alternative maintenance of telomeres (ALT). Although the molecular mechanism of ALT is not known, GT-rich sequences in prokaryotes and eukaryotes display high levels of recombination relative to those of non-GT-rich DNA. We show that human telomeric strand-exchange complexes mediated by Escherichia coli RecA protein differ from those formed with nontelomeric sequences. Moreover, telomeric strand-exchange intermediates, unlike those involving nontelomeric sequences, exhibit a tendency to form higher-order nucleoprotein structures. We propose that the strong DNA unwinding activity inherent in the assembly of the RecA strand-exchange complex promotes the formation of alternative DNA structures at human telomeric loci. Organization of these noncanonical structures into higher-order complexes involving multiple DNA duplexes could facilitate the search for homology on different DNA molecules and provide a framework for understanding recombination-dependent mechanisms of telomere maintenance.