Telomeric DNA of mammalian chromosomes consists of several kilobase- pairs of tandemly repeated sequences with a terminal 3' overhang in single- stranded form. Maintaining the integrity of these repeats is essential for cell survival; telomere attrition is associated with chromosome instability and cell senescence, whereas stabilization of telomere length correlates with the immortalization of somatic cells. Telomere elongation is carried out by telomerase, an RNA-dependent DNA polymerase which adds single-stranded TAGGGT repeats to the 3' ends of chromosomes. While proteins that associate with single-stranded telomeric repeats can influence tract lengths in yeast, equivalent factors have not yet been identified in vertebrates. Here, it is shown that the heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein A1 participates in telomere biogenesis. A mouse cell line deficient in A1 expression harbours telomeres that are shorter than those of a related cell line expressing normal levels of A1. Restoring A1 expression in Al-deficient cells increases telomere length. Telomere elongation is also observed upon introduction of exogenous UP1, the amino-terminal fragment of A1. While both A1 and UP1 bind to vertebrate single-stranded telomeric repeats directly and with specificity in vitro, only UP1 can recover telomerase activity from a cell lysate. These findings establish A1/UP1 as the first single-stranded DNA binding protein involved in mammalian telomere biogenesis and suggest possible mechanisms by which UP1 may modulate telomere length.
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