Nucleic acids research

Mechanisms of template handling and pseudoknot folding in human telomerase and their manipulation to expand the sequence repertoire of processive repeat synthesis.

PMID 29986069


Telomerase adds telomeric repeats to chromosome ends by processive copying of a template within the telomerase RNA bound to telomerase reverse transcriptase. Telomerase RNAs have single-stranded regions that separate the template from a 5' stem and 3' pseudoknot, and mammals gained additional stem P2a.1 separating the template from the pseudoknot. Using human telomerase, we show that the length of template 3'-flanking single-stranded RNA is a determinant of repeat addition processivity whereas template 5'-flanking single-stranded RNA and P2a.1 are critical for activity but not processivity. In comparison, requirements for the template sequence itself are confounding: different substitutions of the same position have strikingly different consequences, from improved processivity and activity to complete inactivation. We discovered that some altered-template sequences stabilize an alternative RNA conformation that precludes the pseudoknot by base-pairing of one pseudoknot strand to the template 3' end. Using mutations to reduce over-stability of the alternative conformation, we restore high activity and processivity to otherwise inactive altered-template telomerase ribonucleoproteins. In cells, over-stabilization or destabilization of the alternative state severely inhibited biogenesis of active telomerase. Our findings delineate roles for human telomerase RNA template-flanking regions, establish a biologically relevant pseudoknot-alternative RNA conformation, and expand the repertoire of human telomerase repeat synthesis.