Using a genome-wide screening approach, we have established the genetic requirements for proper telomere structure in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We uncovered 112 genes, many of which have not previously been implicated in telomere function, that are required to form a fold-back structure at chromosome ends. Among other biological processes, lysine deacetylation, through the Rpd3L, Rpd3S, and Hda1 complexes, emerged as being a critical regulator of telomere structure. The telomeric-bound protein, Rif2, was also found to promote a telomere fold-back through the recruitment of Rpd3L to telomeres. In the absence of Rpd3 function, telomeres have an increased susceptibility to nucleolytic degradation, telomere loss, and the initiation of premature senescence, suggesting that an Rpd3-mediated structure may have protective functions. Together these data reveal that multiple genetic pathways may directly or indirectly impinge on telomere structure, thus broadening the potential targets available to manipulate telomere function.
Impaired telomere elongation eventually results in telomere dysfunction and can lead to diseases such as dyskeratosis congenita, which is associated with bone-marrow failure and pulmonary fibrosis. Cancer cells require continuous telomere maintenance to ensure continued cellular proliferation. Therefore the regulation of telomere function, both positively (in the case of dyskeratosis congenita) and negatively (for cancer), may be of therapeutic benefit. In this study we have used yeast to determine which genetic factors are important for a certain telomeric structure (the loop structure), which may help to maintain chromosome ends in a protected state. We found that multiple genetic factors and pathways affect telomere structure, ranging from metabolic signaling to specific telomere-binding proteins. We found that proper chromatin structure at the telomere is essential to maintain a telomere fold-back structure. Importantly, there was a strong correlation between telomere structure and function, as the mutants found in our screen (looping defective) were often associated with rapid senescence and telomere dysfunction phenotypes. We believe that, through the regulation of the various genetic pathways uncovered in our screen, one may be able to both positively and negatively influence telomere function.