Tennen RI, Bua DJ, Wright WE, Chua KF
In Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the repressive chromatin environment at telomeres gives rise to telomere position effect (TPE), the epigenetic silencing of telomere-proximal genes. Chromatin-modifying factors that control TPE in yeast have been extensively studied, and, among these, the lifespan regulator and silencing protein Sir2 has a pivotal role. In contrast, the factors that generate and maintain silent telomeric chromatin in human cells remain largely unknown. Here we show that the Sir2 family member SIRT6 is required for maintenance of TPE in human cells. RNAi-mediated depletion of SIRT6 abrogates silencing of both an integrated telomeric transgene and an endogenous telomere-proximal gene. Moreover, enhanced telomeric silencing in response to telomere elongation is associated with increased repressive chromatin marks, and this heterochromatic milieu is lost in SIRT6-deficient cells. Together, these findings establish a new role for SIRT6 in regulating an ageing-associated epigenetic silencing process and provide new mechanistic insight into chromatin silencing at telomeres.