Nergadze SG, Farnung BO, Wischnewski H, Khoriauli L, Vitelli V, Chawla R, Giulotto E, Azzalin CM
The longstanding dogma that telomeres, the heterochromatic extremities of linear eukaryotic chromosomes, are transcriptionally silent was overturned by the discovery that DNA-dependent RNA polymerase II (RNAPII) transcribes telomeric DNA into telomeric repeat-containing RNA (TERRA). Here, we show that CpG dinucleotide-rich DNA islands, shared among multiple human chromosome ends, promote transcription of TERRA molecules. TERRA promoters sustain cellular expression of reporter genes, are located immediately upstream of TERRA transcription start sites, and are bound by active RNAPII in vivo. Finally, the identified promoter CpG dinucleotides are methylated in vivo, and cytosine methylation negatively regulates TERRA abundance. The existence of subtelomeric promoters, driving TERRA transcription from independent chromosome ends, supports the idea that TERRA exerts fundamental functions in the context of telomere biology.