Telomere Transcription in MLL-Rearranged Leukemia Cell Lines: Increased Levels of TERRA Associate with Lymphoid Lineage and Are Independent of Telomere Length and Ploidy

Biomedicines. 2023 Mar 16;11(3):925. doi: 10.3390/biomedicines11030925.


Telomere transcription into telomeric repeat-containing RNA (TERRA) is an integral component of all aspects of chromosome end protection consisting of telomerase- or recombination-dependent telomere elongation, telomere capping, and the preservation of the (sub)telomeric heterochromatin structure. The chromatin modifier and transcriptional regulator MLL binds to telomeres and regulates TERRA transcription in telomere length homeostasis and response to telomere dysfunction. MLL fusion proteins (MLL-FPs), the product of MLL rearrangements in leukemia, also bind to telomeric chromatin. However, an effect on telomere transcription in MLL-rearranged (MLL-r) leukemia has not yet been evaluated. Here, we show increased UUAGGG repeat-containing RNA levels in MLL-r acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) when compared to non-MLL-r ALL and myeloid leukemia. MLL rearrangements do not affect telomere length and UUAGGG repeat-containing RNA levels correlate with mean telomere length and reflect increased levels of TERRA. Furthermore, high levels of TERRA in MLL-r ALL occur in the presence of telomerase activity and are independent of ploidy, an underestimated source of variation on the overall transcriptome size in a cell. This MLL rearrangement-dependent and lymphoid lineage-associated increase in levels of TERRA supports a sustained telomere transcription by MLL-FPs that correlates with marked genomic stability previously reported in pediatric MLL-r ALL.

Keywords: MLL; TERRA; acute lymphoblastic leukemia; telomere; transcription.

Grants and funding

The authors would like to thank the University of Michigan for the start-up found support.