Telomeres, the nucleoprotein complexes at the end of eukaryotic chromosomes, protect them from degradation and ensure the replicative capacity of cells. In most human tumors and in budding yeast, telomere length is maintained by the activity of telomerase, an enzyme that adds dNTPs according to an internal RNA template. The dNTPs are generated with the help of the ribonucleotide reductase (RNR) complex. We have recently generated strains lacking the large subunit of RNR, Rnr1, which were kept viable by the expression of RNR complexes containing the Rnr1 homolog, Rnr3. Interestingly, we found that these Rnr1-deficient strains have short telomeres that are stably maintained, but cannot become efficiently elongated by telomerase. Thus, a basic maintenance of short telomeres is possible under conditions, where Rnr1 activity is absent, but a sustained elongation of short telomeres fully depends on Rnr1 activity. We show that Rnr3 cannot compensate for this telomeric function of Rnr1 even when overall cellular dNTP values are restored. This suggests that Rnr1 plays a role in telomere elongation beyond increasing cellular dNTP levels. Furthermore, our data indicate that telomerase may act in two different modes, one that is capable of coping with the “end-replication problem” and is functional even in the absence of Rnr1 and another required for the sustained elongation of short telomeres, which fully depends on the presence of Rnr1. Supply of dNTPs for telomere elongation is provided by the Mec1ATR checkpoint, both during regular DNA replication and upon replication fork stalling. We discuss the implications of these results on telomere maintenance in yeast and cancer cells.
- Ribonucleotide reductase