Researchers find mechanism that regulates telomeres

February 28, 2019, Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC)
Telomeres (in green) are at the tips of chromosomes (in red). Credit: Jose Escandell, IGC

The tips of chromosomes have structures called telomeres comparable to the plastic cover at the end of shoelaces. They work as a protective cap that prevents genetic material from unfolding and corroding. When telomeres do not work properly, the total erosion of genetic material can occur, triggering cancer and age-related diseases. In a study now published in the EMBO Journal, a research team from Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC; Portugal), led by Jose Escandell and Miguel Godinho Ferreira, reports a key aspect of the regulation of telomeres.

Many are attributed to telomere malfunction. One such disease was recently identified as the result of the malfunction of a protein complex known as CST, which is responsible for maintaining telomeres. Deficiencies in this complex give rise to a telomeropathy called Coats Plus. This syndrome is genetically inherited and characterized by abnormalities of the gastrointestinal system, bones, brain and other parts of the body. The IGC researchers now report details of the regulation of the "S" component of that CST complex. The researchers discovered that STN1 (the protein that corresponds to the S component) is regulated by a chemical modification that results in the insertion of phosphorus into this protein, and it can be reversed by an enzyme, the phosphatase SSU72. This allows telomere duplication and regulation of telomerase, which is the enzyme that elongates telomeres.

The researchers also showed that this process is identical in yeast and in . This means that the regulation of the "S" component has been conserved throughout evolution of species, which reveals the importance of this process for the correct functioning of cells.

The findings open new avenues to possible therapies for diseases associated with defects in telomeres. "The unanticipated role of this evolutionary conserved phosphatase is reminiscent of the regulation of the cell cycle by phosphatases that counteract the role of kinases, thus re-establishing the ground state of 'once and only once' cell cycle processes," says the investigator Miguel Godinho Ferreira. "With this work, we now understand better how works, a key process in cancer and aging," says Jose Escandell, first author of the publication.

Explore further: Blocking two enzymes could make cancer cells mortal

More information: Jose Miguel Escandell et al. Ssu72 phosphatase is a conserved telomere replication terminator, The EMBO Journal (2019). DOI: 10.15252/embj.2018100476

Related Stories

Blocking two enzymes could make cancer cells mortal

May 17, 2018

EPFL scientists have identified two enzymes that protect chromosomes from oxidative damage and shortening. Blocking them might be a new anticancer strategy for stopping telomerase, the enzyme that immortalizes tumors.

Why chromosomes never tie their shoelaces

September 8, 2010

In the latest issue of the journal Nature, Miguel Godinho Ferreira, Principal Investigator at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia (IGC) in Portugal, lead a team of researchers to shed light on a paradox that has puzzled biologists ...

Recommended for you

A decade on, smartphone-like software finally heads to space

March 20, 2019

Once a traditional satellite is launched into space, its physical hardware and computer software stay mostly immutable for the rest of its existence as it orbits the Earth, even as the technology it serves on the ground continues ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.