Telomeres acquire distinct heterochromatin characteristics during siRNA-induced RNA interference in mouse cells

Curr Biol. 2008 Feb 12;18(3):183-7. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2007.12.059.


Telomeres are protective structures present at the ends of linear chromosomes and consist of simple repeating-DNA sequences and specialized proteins [1, 2]. Integrity of the telomeres is important in maintaining genome stability[1-6]. RNA interference(RNAi) involves short double-stranded RNA (21-23 nucleotides long), termed short interference RNA(siRNA), resulting in the downregulation of genes with cognate sequences [7-9]. During transient siRNA-induced RNAi in mouse fibroblast cultures, we found significant reversible changes related to the telomeres. Telomeres acquired distinct heterochromatin features. There were increased bindings of Argonaute-1 (AGO1), telomeric repeat-binding factor 1(TERF1), and heterochromatin protein 1beta (HP1beta) on the telomeres. Histone H3 (lysine 9) was hypermethylated at the telomeres. The chromosome ends also were associated with an unidentified RNA. During RNAi, expression of a transgene inserted adjacent to the telomere was downregulated. In addition, the concentration of a group of heterogeneous high-molecular-weight RNA containing telomeric repeat sequences was increased, and this RNA formed a small number of transient, discrete nuclear foci. Our findings suggest that telomeres participate actively in the siRNA-induced RNAi process. These responses of telomeres to the RNAi process might partially account for the off-target effects of RNAi.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism*
  • Heterochromatin / genetics
  • Heterochromatin / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • RNA Interference*
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism*
  • Telomere / genetics
  • Telomere / metabolism*


  • Heterochromatin
  • RNA, Small Interfering