Epigenetic regulation of telomere length in mammalian cells by the Suv39h1 and Suv39h2 histone methyltransferases

Nat Genet. 2004 Jan;36(1):94-9. doi: 10.1038/ng1278. Epub 2003 Dec 14.


Telomeres are capping structures at the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes composed of TTAGGG repeats bound to an array of specialized proteins. Telomeres are heterochromatic regions. Yeast and flies with defects in activities that modify the state of chromatin also have abnormal telomere function, but the putative role of chromatin-modifying activities in regulating telomeres in mammals is unknown. Here we report on telomere length and function in mice null with respect to both the histone methyltransferases (HMTases) Suv39h1 and Suv39h2 (called SUV39DN mice). Suv39h1 and Suv39h2 govern methylation of histone H3 Lys9 (H3-Lys9) in heterochromatic regions. We show that primary cells derived from SUV39DN mice have abnormally long telomeres relative to wild-type controls. Using chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) analysis, we found that telomeres were enriched in di- and trimethylated H3-Lys9 but that telomeres of SUV39DN cells had less dimethylated and trimethylated H3-Lys9 but more monomethylated H3-Lys9. Concomitant with the decrease in H3-Lys9 methylation, telomeres in SUV39DN cells had reduced binding of the chromobox proteins Cbx1, Cbx3 and Cbx5, homologs of Drosophila melanogaster heterochromatin protein 1 (HP1). These findings indicate substantial changes in the state of telomeric heterochromatin in SUV39DN cells, which are associated with abnormal telomere elongation. Taken together, the results indicate epigenetic regulation of telomere length in mammals by Suv39h1 and Suv39h2.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Histone Methyltransferases
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase*
  • Methylation
  • Methyltransferases / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Mutant Strains
  • Models, Genetic
  • Protein Methyltransferases
  • Repressor Proteins / physiology*
  • Telomere / metabolism
  • Telomere / physiology*


  • Repressor Proteins
  • Suv39h1 protein, mouse
  • Histone Methyltransferases
  • Methyltransferases
  • Protein Methyltransferases
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase