A subset of human tumors ensures indefinite telomere length maintenance by activating a telomerase-independent mechanism known as Alternative Lengthening of Telomeres (ALT). Most tumor cells of ALT origin share a constellation of unique characteristics, which include large stores of extra-chromosomal telomeric material, chronic telomere dysfunction and a peculiar enrichment in chromosome ends with 5' C-rich overhangs. Here we demonstrate that acute telomere de-protection and the subsequent DNA damage signal are not sufficient to facilitate formation of 5' C-overhangs at the chromosome end. Rather chromosome ends bearing 5' C-overhangs are a by-product of rapid cleavage events, processing of which occurs independently of the DNA damage response and is partly mediated through the XRCC3 endonuclease.
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