Challenging endings: How telomeres prevent fragility

Bioessays. 2021 Oct;43(10):e2100157. doi: 10.1002/bies.202100157. Epub 2021 Aug 26.


It has become apparent that difficulties to replicate telomeres concern not only the very ends of eukaryotic chromosomes. The challenges already start when the replication fork enters the telomeric repeats. The obstacles encountered consist mainly of noncanonical nucleic acid structures that interfere with replication if not resolved. Replication stress at telomeres promotes the formation of so-called fragile telomeres displaying an abnormal appearance in metaphase chromosomes though their exact molecular nature remains to be elucidated. A substantial number of factors is required to counteract fragility. In this review we promote the hypothesis that telomere fragility is not caused directly by an initial insult during replication but it results as a secondary consequence of DNA repair of damaged replication forks by the homologous DNA recombination machinery. Incomplete DNA synthesis at repair sites or partial chromatin condensation may become apparent as telomere fragility. Fragility and DNA repair during telomere replication emerges as a common phenomenon which exacerbates in multiple disease conditions.

Keywords: DNA repair; DNA replication; fragility; replication stress; telomere.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chromatin / genetics
  • DNA Repair / genetics
  • DNA Replication* / genetics
  • Homologous Recombination
  • Telomere* / genetics


  • Chromatin