Architecture of telomerase RNA

EMBO J. 1994 Dec 1;13(23):5721-31.


Telomerase, an essential ribonucleoprotein reverse transcriptase, adds telomeric DNA to the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes. We examined the conformational properties of the naked RNA moiety of telomerase from two related ciliates, Tetrahymena thermophila and Glaucoma chattoni. As well as finding evidence for features proposed previously on the basis of phylogenetic comparisons, novel conserved structural properties were revealed. Specifically, although the region around helix III was previously proposed to form a pseudoknot, our results indicate that in the naked RNA this region maintains a level of 'plasticity', probably in an equilibrium favoring one of two helices. In addition, these studies reveal that the templating domain is not entirely single-stranded as previously proposed, but is ordered due to constraints imposed by other parts of the RNA. Finally, our results suggest that the GA bulge in helix IV may introduce a structurally conserved kink. We now propose a 'two-domain' structure for the telomerase RNA based on function: one conformationally flexible domain, which includes the template and the region around helix III, involved with enzymatic function, and a second largely helical domain, including helices I and IV and the proposed kink, which may serve as a scaffold for protein binding.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • DNA Nucleotidylexotransferase / genetics*
  • Hymenostomatida / enzymology
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation*
  • RNA, Protozoan / chemistry*
  • Templates, Genetic
  • Tetrahymena thermophila / enzymology


  • RNA, Protozoan
  • DNA Nucleotidylexotransferase