A Tale of Two States: Pluripotency Regulation of Telomeres

Front Cell Dev Biol. 2021 Jul 8;9:703466. doi: 10.3389/fcell.2021.703466. eCollection 2021.

Abstract

Inside the nucleus, chromatin is functionally organized and maintained as a complex three-dimensional network of structures with different accessibility such as compartments, lamina associated domains, and membraneless bodies. Chromatin is epigenetically and transcriptionally regulated by an intricate and dynamic interplay of molecular processes to ensure genome stability. Phase separation, a process that involves the spontaneous organization of a solution into separate phases, has been proposed as a mechanism for the timely coordination of several cellular processes, including replication, transcription and DNA repair. Telomeres, the repetitive structures at the end of chromosomes, are epigenetically maintained in a repressed heterochromatic state that prevents their recognition as double-strand breaks (DSB), avoiding DNA damage repair and ensuring cell proliferation. In pluripotent embryonic stem cells, telomeres adopt a non-canonical, relaxed epigenetic state, which is characterized by a low density of histone methylation and expression of telomere non-coding transcripts (TERRA). Intriguingly, this telomere non-canonical conformation is usually associated with chromosome instability and aneuploidy in somatic cells, raising the question of how genome stability is maintained in a pluripotent background. In this review, we will explore how emerging technological and conceptual developments in 3D genome architecture can provide novel mechanistic perspectives for the pluripotent epigenetic paradox at telomeres. In particular, as RNA drives the formation of LLPS, we will consider how pluripotency-associated high levels of TERRA could drive and coordinate phase separation of several nuclear processes to ensure genome stability. These conceptual advances will provide a better understanding of telomere regulation and genome stability within the highly dynamic pluripotent background.

Keywords: chromatin; epigenetics; nuclear architecture; phase separation; pluripotency; telomeres.

Publication types

  • Review