Document Type


Publication Date




Publication Title

BMC Genomics




485 (1-17)


BACKGROUND: Telomeric DNA is typically comprised of G-rich tandem repeat motifs and maintained by telomerase (Greider CW, Blackburn EH; Cell 51:887-898; 1987). In eukaryotes lacking telomerase, a variety of DNA repair and DNA recombination based pathways for telomere maintenance have evolved in organisms normally dependent upon telomerase for telomere elongation (Webb CJ, Wu Y, Zakian VA; Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol 5:a012666; 2013); collectively called Alternative Lengthening of Telomeres (ALT) pathways. By measuring (TTAGGG) n tract lengths from the same large DNA molecules that were optically mapped, we simultaneously analyzed telomere length dynamics and subtelomere-linked structural changes at a large number of specific subtelomeric loci in the ALT-positive cell lines U2OS, SK-MEL-2 and Saos-2.

RESULTS: Our results revealed loci-specific ALT telomere features. For example, while each subtelomere included examples of single molecules with terminal (TTAGGG) n tracts as well as examples of recombinant telomeric single molecules, the ratio of these molecules was subtelomere-specific, ranging from 33:1 (19p) to 1:25 (19q) in U2OS. The Saos-2 cell line shows a similar percentage of recombinant telomeres. The frequency of recombinant subtelomeres of SK-MEL-2 (11%) is about half that of U2OS and Saos-2 (24 and 19% respectively). Terminal (TTAGGG) n tract lengths and heterogeneity levels, the frequencies of telomere signal-free ends, and the frequency and size of retained internal telomere-like sequences (ITSs) at recombinant telomere fusion junctions all varied according to the specific subtelomere involved in a particular cell line. Very large linear extrachromosomal telomere repeat (ECTR) DNA molecules were found in all three cell lines; these are in principle capable of templating synthesis of new long telomere tracts via break-induced repair (BIR) long-tract DNA synthesis mechanisms and contributing to the very long telomere tract length and heterogeneity characteristic of ALT cells. Many of longest telomere tracts (both end-telomeres and linear ECTRs) displayed punctate CRISPR/Cas9-dependent (TTAGGG) n labeling patterns indicative of interspersion of stretches of non-canonical telomere repeats.

CONCLUSION: Identifying individual subtelomeres and characterizing linked telomere (TTAGGG) n tract lengths and structural changes using our new single-molecule methodologies reveals the structural consequences of telomere damage, repair and recombination mechanisms in human ALT cells in unprecedented molecular detail and significant differences in different ALT-positive cell lines.


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Original Publication Citation

Abid, H. Z., McCaffrey, J., Raseley, K., Young, E., Lassahn, K., Varapula, D., Riethman, H., & Xiao, M. (2020, Jul 15). Single-molecule analysis of subtelomeres and telomeres in Alternative Lengthening of Telomeres (ALT) cells. BMC genomics, 21, 485.