Expression and differential regulation of human TERRA at several chromosome ends

RNA. 2019 Nov;25(11):1470-1480. doi: 10.1261/rna.072322.119. Epub 2019 Jul 26.


The telomeric long noncoding RNA TERRA has been implicated in regulating telomere maintenance by telomerase and homologous recombination, and in influencing telomeric protein composition during the cell cycle and the telomeric DNA damage response. TERRA transcription starts at subtelomeric regions resembling the CpG islands of eukaryotic genes extending toward chromosome ends. TERRA contains chromosome-specific subtelomeric sequences at its 5' end and long tracts of UUAGGG-repeats toward the 3' end. Conflicting studies have been published as to whether TERRA is expressed from one or several chromosome ends. Here, we quantify TERRA species by RT-qPCR in normal and several cancerous human cell lines. By using chromosome-specific subtelomeric DNA primers, we demonstrate that TERRA is expressed from a large number of telomeres. Deficiency in DNA methyltransferases leads to TERRA up-regulation only at the subset of chromosome ends that contain CpG-island sequences, revealing differential regulation of TERRA promoters by DNA methylation. However, independently of the differences in TERRA expression, short telomeres were uniformly present in a DNA methyltransferase deficient cell line, indicating that telomere length was not dictated by TERRA expression in cis Bioinformatic analyses indicated the presence of a large number of putative transcription factors binding sites at TERRA promoters, and we identified a subset of them that repress TERRA expression. Altogether, our study confirms that TERRA corresponds to a large gene family transcribed from multiple chromosome ends where we identified two types of TERRA promoters, only one of which is regulated by DNA methylation.

Keywords: TERRA; long noncoding RNA; telomere length; telomeres.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Chromosomes, Human*
  • CpG Islands
  • DNA Methylation
  • DNA Modification Methylases / metabolism
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • HCT116 Cells
  • Humans
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Telomere*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Up-Regulation


  • DMRT2 protein, human
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • DNA Modification Methylases