DNA and telomeres: beginnings and endings

Cytogenet Genome Res. 2004;104(1-4):109-15. doi: 10.1159/000077474.


How a cell deals with its DNA ends is a question that returns us to the very beginnings of modern telomere biology. It is also a question we are still asking today because it is absolutely essential that a cell correctly distinguishes between natural chromosomal DNA ends and broken DNA ends, then processes each appropriately - preserving the one, rejoining the other. Effective end-capping of mammalian telomeres has a seemingly paradoxical requirement for proteins more commonly associated with DNA double strand break (DSB) repair. Ku70, Ku80, DNA-PKcs (the catalytic subunit of DNA-dependent protein kinase), Xrcc4 and Artemis all participate in DSB repair through nonhomologous end-joining (NHEJ). Somewhat surprisingly, mutations in any of these genes cause spontaneous chromosomal end-to-end fusions that maintain large blocks of telomeric sequence at the points of fusion, suggesting loss or failure of a critical terminal structure, rather than telomere shortening, is at fault. Nascent telomeres produced via leading-strand DNA synthesis are especially susceptible to these end-to-end fusions, suggesting a crucial difference in the postreplicative processing of telomeres that is linked to their mode of replication. Here we will examine the dual roles played by DNA repair proteins. Our review of this rapidly advancing field primarily will focus on mammalian cells, and cannot include even all of this. Despite these limitations, we hope the review will serve as a useful gateway to the literature, and will help to frame the major issues in this exciting and rapidly progressing field. Our apologies to those whose work we are unable to include.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, Nuclear / physiology
  • Chromosome Breakage
  • Chromosomes / ultrastructure
  • Chromosomes, Human / genetics
  • Chromosomes, Human / ultrastructure
  • DNA / genetics*
  • DNA Repair
  • DNA Repair Enzymes / physiology
  • DNA Replication
  • DNA-Activated Protein Kinase
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / physiology
  • Dog Diseases / genetics
  • Dogs
  • Humans
  • Ku Autoantigen
  • Mammals / genetics
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, SCID
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / deficiency
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / physiology
  • Radiation Tolerance / genetics
  • Severe Combined Immunodeficiency / genetics
  • Severe Combined Immunodeficiency / veterinary
  • Telomere / genetics
  • Telomere / physiology*
  • Telomere / ultrastructure


  • Antigens, Nuclear
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • DNA
  • DNA-Activated Protein Kinase
  • PRKDC protein, human
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Xrcc6 protein, human
  • Xrcc6 protein, mouse
  • Ku Autoantigen
  • DNA Repair Enzymes