Alternative Lengthening of Telomeres and Chromatin Status

Genes (Basel). 2019 Dec 30;11(1):45. doi: 10.3390/genes11010045.


Telomere length is maintained by either telomerase, a reverse transcriptase, or alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT), a mechanism that utilizes homologous recombination (HR) proteins. Since access to DNA for HR enzymes is regulated by the chromatin status, it is expected that telomere elongation is linked to epigenetic modifications. The aim of this review is to elucidate the epigenetic features of ALT-positive cells. In order to do this, it is first necessary to understand the telomeric chromatin peculiarities. So far, the epigenetic nature of telomeres is still controversial: some authors describe them as heterochromatic, while for others, they are euchromatic. Similarly, ALT activity should be characterized by the loss (according to most researchers) or formation (as claimed by a minority) of heterochromatin in telomeres. Besides reviewing the main works in this field and the most recent findings, some hypotheses involving the role of telomere non-canonical sequences and the possible spatial heterogeneity of telomeres are given.

Keywords: ALT; TERRA; chromatin; histones; recombination; subtelomeres; variant repeats.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromatin / genetics*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Homologous Recombination
  • Humans
  • Telomerase / metabolism
  • Telomere / metabolism*
  • Telomere Homeostasis*


  • Chromatin
  • Telomerase