Publications

2012
Webb, Christopher J, and Virginia A Zakian. “Schizosaccharomyces pombe Ccq1 and TER1 bind the 14-3-3-like domain of Est1, which promotes and stabilizes telomerase-telomere association.”. Genes Dev 26.1 (2012): , 26, 1, 82-91. Web.Abstract
The telomerase protein Est1 exists in multiple organisms, including Schizosaccharomyces pombe, humans, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, but its function has only been closely examined in S. cerevisiae, where it is a recruiter/activator of telomerase. Here, we demonstrate that S. pombe Est1 was required for the telomere association of the telomerase holoenzyme, suggesting that it too has a recruitment role. Its association with telomeres was dependent on Trt1, the catalytic subunit, and Ccq1, a telomeric protein. Surprisingly, Est1 telomere binding was only partially dependent on TER1, the telomerase RNA, even though Est1 bound nucleotides 415-507 of TER1. A ter1-Δ415-507 strain had short telomeres and very low Est1 and Trt1 telomere association in late S phase but did not senesce. An unbiased search for mutations that reduced Est1-TER1 interaction identified mutations only in the Est1 14-3-3-like domain, a phosphoserine-binding motif, the first example of a 14-3-3-like domain with RNA-binding activity. These mutations also reduced Est1-Ccq1 binding. One such mutant prevented Est1 telomere association and caused telomere loss and slow senescence, similar to ccq1Δ. We propose that the Est1-Ccq1 interaction is critical for telomerase recruitment, while the Est1-TER1 interaction acts downstream from Ccq1-mediated recruitment to stabilize the holoenzyme at the telomere.
Zakian, Virginia A. “Telomeres: the beginnings and ends of eukaryotic chromosomes.”. Exp Cell Res 318.12 (2012): , 318, 12, 1456-60. Web.Abstract
The ends of eukaryotic chromosomes are called telomeres. This article provides a short history of telomere and telomerase research starting with the pioneering work of Muller and McClintock through the molecular era of telomere biology. These studies culminated in the 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine. Critical findings that moved the field forward and that suggest directions for future research are emphasized.
Bochman, Matthew L, Katrin Paeschke, and Virginia A Zakian. “DNA secondary structures: stability and function of G-quadruplex structures.”. Nat Rev Genet 13.11 (2012): , 13, 11, 770-80. Web.Abstract
In addition to the canonical double helix, DNA can fold into various other inter- and intramolecular secondary structures. Although many such structures were long thought to be in vitro artefacts, bioinformatics demonstrates that DNA sequences capable of forming these structures are conserved throughout evolution, suggesting the existence of non-B-form DNA in vivo. In addition, genes whose products promote formation or resolution of these structures are found in diverse organisms, and a growing body of work suggests that the resolution of DNA secondary structures is critical for genome integrity. This Review focuses on emerging evidence relating to the characteristics of G-quadruplex structures and the possible influence of such structures on genomic stability and cellular processes, such as transcription.
Wellinger, Raymund J, and Virginia A Zakian. “Everything you ever wanted to know about Saccharomyces cerevisiae telomeres: beginning to end.”. Genetics 191.4 (2012): , 191, 4, 1073-105. Web.Abstract
The mechanisms that maintain the stability of chromosome ends have broad impact on genome integrity in all eukaryotes. Budding yeast is a premier organism for telomere studies. Many fundamental concepts of telomere and telomerase function were first established in yeast and then extended to other organisms. We present a comprehensive review of yeast telomere biology that covers capping, replication, recombination, and transcription. We think of it as yeast telomeres--soup to nuts.
2011
Paeschke, Katrin, John A Capra, and Virginia A Zakian. “DNA replication through G-quadruplex motifs is promoted by the Saccharomyces cerevisiae Pif1 DNA helicase.”. Cell 145.5 (2011): , 145, 5, 678-91. Web.Abstract
G-quadruplex (G4) DNA structures are extremely stable four-stranded secondary structures held together by noncanonical G-G base pairs. Genome-wide chromatin immunoprecipitation was used to determine the in vivo binding sites of the multifunctional Saccharomyces cerevisiae Pif1 DNA helicase, a potent unwinder of G4 structures in vitro. G4 motifs were a significant subset of the high-confidence Pif1-binding sites. Replication slowed in the vicinity of these motifs, and they were prone to breakage in Pif1-deficient cells, whereas non-G4 Pif1-binding sites did not show this behavior. Introducing many copies of G4 motifs caused slow growth in replication-stressed Pif1-deficient cells, which was relieved by spontaneous mutations that eliminated their ability to form G4 structures, bind Pif1, slow DNA replication, and stimulate DNA breakage. These data suggest that G4 structures form in vivo and that they are resolved by Pif1 to prevent replication fork stalling and DNA breakage.
Bochman, Matthew L, Colleen P Judge, and Virginia A Zakian. “The Pif1 family in prokaryotes: what are our helicases doing in your bacteria?”. Mol Biol Cell 22.12 (2011): , 22, 12, 1955-9. Web.Abstract
Pif1 family helicases, which are found in nearly all eukaryotes, have important roles in both nuclear and mitochondrial genome maintenance. Recently, the increasing availability of genome sequences has revealed that Pif1 helicases are also widely found in diverse prokaryotes, but it is currently unknown what physiological function(s) prokaryotic Pif1 helicases might perform. This Perspective aims to briefly introduce the reader to the well-studied eukaryotic Pif1 family helicases and speculate on what roles such enzymes may play in bacteria. On the basis of our hypotheses, we predict that Pif1 family helicases are important for resolving common issues that arise during DNA replication, recombination, and repair rather than functioning in a eukaryotic-specific manner.
Tuzon, Creighton T, et al.The Saccharomyces cerevisiae telomerase subunit Est3 binds telomeres in a cell cycle- and Est1-dependent manner and interacts directly with Est1 in vitro.”. PLoS Genet 75 (2011): , 7, 5, e1002060. Web.Abstract
Telomerase is a telomere dedicated reverse transcriptase that replicates the very ends of eukaryotic chromosomes. Saccharomyces cerevisiae telomerase consists of TLC1 (the RNA template), Est2 (the catalytic subunit), and two accessory proteins, Est1 and Est3, that are essential in vivo for telomerase activity but are dispensable for catalysis in vitro. Est1 functions in both recruitment and activation of telomerase. The association of Est3 with telomeres occurred largely in late S/G2 phase, the time when telomerase acts and Est1 telomere binding occurs. Est3 telomere binding was Est1-dependent. This dependence is likely due to a direct interaction between the two proteins, as purified recombinant Est1 and Est3 interacted in vitro. Est3 abundance was neither cell cycle-regulated nor Est1-dependent. Est3 was the most abundant of the three Est proteins (84.3±13.3 molecules per cell versus 71.1±19.2 for Est1 and 37.2±6.5 for Est2), so its telomere association and/or activity is unlikely to be limited by its relative abundance. Est2 and Est1 telomere binding was unaffected by the absence of Est3. Taken together, these data indicate that Est3 acts downstream of both Est2 and Est1 and that the putative activation function of Est1 can be explained by its role in recruiting Est3 to telomeres.
Wu, Yun, and Virginia A Zakian. “The telomeric Cdc13 protein interacts directly with the telomerase subunit Est1 to bring it to telomeric DNA ends in vitro.”. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 108.51 (2011): , 108, 51, 20362-9. Web.Abstract
In Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a Cdc13-Est1 interaction is proposed to mediate recruitment of telomerase to DNA ends. Here we provide unique in vitro evidence for this model by demonstrating a direct interaction between purified Cdc13 and Est1. The Cdc13-Est1 interaction is specific and requires the in vivo defined Cdc13 recruitment domain. Moreover, in the absence of this interaction, Est1 is excluded from telomeric single-stranded (ss)DNA. The apparent association constand (K(d)) between Est1 and a Cdc13-telomeric ssDNA complex was ∼250 nM. In G2 phase cells, where telomerase is active, Cdc13 and Est1 were sufficiently abundant (∼420 and ∼110 copies per cell, respectively) to support complex formation. Interaction between Cdc13 and Est1 was unchanged by three telomerase-deficient mutations, Cdc13(E252K) (cdc13-2), Est1(K444E) (est1-60), and Cdc13(S249,255D), indicating that their telomerase null phenotypes are not due to loss of the Cdc13-Est1 interaction. These data recapitulate in vitro the first step in telomerase recruitment to telomeric ssDNA and suggest that this step is necessary to recruit telomerase to DNA ends.
2010
Boulé, Jean-Baptiste, and Virginia A Zakian. “Characterization of the helicase activity and anti-telomerase properties of yeast Pif1p in vitro.”. Methods Mol Biol 587 (2010): , 587, 359-76. Web.Abstract
Pif1p is the prototype member of a family of helicases that is highly conserved from yeast to humans. In yeast, Pif1p is involved in many aspects of the preservation of genome stability. In particular, Pif1p is involved in the maintenance of mitochondrial DNA and in the direct inhibition of telomerase at telomeres and double-stranded breaks. Here we describe methods to purify Pif1p and study in vitro its enzymatic properties and functional interaction with telomerase.
Capra, John A, et al.G-quadruplex DNA sequences are evolutionarily conserved and associated with distinct genomic features in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.”. PLoS Comput Biol 67 (2010): , 6, 7, e1000861. Web.Abstract
G-quadruplex DNA is a four-stranded DNA structure formed by non-Watson-Crick base pairing between stacked sets of four guanines. Many possible functions have been proposed for this structure, but its in vivo role in the cell is still largely unresolved. We carried out a genome-wide survey of the evolutionary conservation of regions with the potential to form G-quadruplex DNA structures (G4 DNA motifs) across seven yeast species. We found that G4 DNA motifs were significantly more conserved than expected by chance, and the nucleotide-level conservation patterns suggested that the motif conservation was the result of the formation of G4 DNA structures. We characterized the association of conserved and non-conserved G4 DNA motifs in Saccharomyces cerevisiae with more than 40 known genome features and gene classes. Our comprehensive, integrated evolutionary and functional analysis confirmed the previously observed associations of G4 DNA motifs with promoter regions and the rDNA, and it identified several previously unrecognized associations of G4 DNA motifs with genomic features, such as mitotic and meiotic double-strand break sites (DSBs). Conserved G4 DNA motifs maintained strong associations with promoters and the rDNA, but not with DSBs. We also performed the first analysis of G4 DNA motifs in the mitochondria, and surprisingly found a tenfold higher concentration of the motifs in the AT-rich yeast mitochondrial DNA than in nuclear DNA. The evolutionary conservation of the G4 DNA motif and its association with specific genome features supports the hypothesis that G4 DNA has in vivo functions that are under evolutionary constraint.
Wu, Yun, and Virginia A Zakian. “Identity crisis when telomeres left unprotected.”. J Mol Cell Biol 21 (2010): , 2, 1, 14-6. Web.Abstract
Loss of shelterin components TRF2 or POT1a-TPP1 complex from the chromosome end triggers DNA damage response (DDR) and aberrant DNA repair events. In a recent Nature paper, Chang and colleagues reported that the DNA repair protein Mre11 contributes to multiple events at the uncapped telomere, including ataxia telangiectasia-mutated (ATM)-dependent signaling, processing of the telomeric G-tail and homologous recombination (HR).
Paeschke, Katrin, Karin R McDonald, and Virginia A Zakian. “Telomeres: structures in need of unwinding.”. FEBS Lett 584.17 (2010): , 584, 17, 3760-72. Web.Abstract
Telomeres protect the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes from being recognized and processed as double strand breaks. In most organisms, telomeric DNA is highly repetitive with a high GC-content. Moreover, the G residues are concentrated in the strand running 3'-5' from the end of the chromosome towards its center. This G-rich strand is extended to form a 3' single-stranded tail that can form unusual secondary structures such as T-loops and G-quadruplex DNA. Both the duplex repeats and the single-stranded G-tail are assembled into stable protein-DNA complexes. The unique architecture, high GC content, and multi-protein association create particularly stable protein-DNA complexes that are a challenge for replication, recombination, and transcription. Helicases utilize the energy of nucleotide hydrolysis to unwind base paired nucleic acids and, in some cases, to displace proteins from them. The telomeric functions of helicases from the RecQ, Pifl, FANCJ, and DNA2 families are reviewed in this article. We summarize data showing that perturbation of their telomere activities can lead to telomere dysfunction and genome instability and in some cases human disease.
Bochman, Matthew L, Nasim Sabouri, and Virginia A Zakian. “Unwinding the functions of the Pif1 family helicases.”. DNA Repair (Amst) 93 (2010): , 9, 3, 237-49. Web.Abstract
Helicases are ubiquitous enzymes found in all organisms that are necessary for all (or virtually all) aspects of nucleic acid metabolism. The Pif1 helicase family is a group of 5'-->3' directed, ATP-dependent, super family IB helicases found in nearly all eukaryotes. Here, we review the discovery, evolution, and what is currently known about these enzymes in Saccharomyces cerevisiae (ScPif1 and ScRrm3), Schizosaccharomyces pombe (SpPfh1), Trypanosoma brucei (TbPIF1, 2, 5, and 8), mice (mPif1), and humans (hPif1). Pif1 helicases variously affect telomeric, ribosomal, and mitochondrial DNA replication, as well as Okazaki fragment maturation, and in at least some cases affect these processes by using their helicase activity to disrupt stable nucleoprotein complexes. While the functions of these enzymes vary within and between organisms, it is evident that Pif1 family helicases are crucial for both nuclear and mitochondrial genome maintenance.
McGee, Jean S, et al.Reduced Rif2 and lack of Mec1 target short telomeres for elongation rather than double-strand break repair.”. Nat Struct Mol Biol 17.12 (2010): , 17, 12, 1438-45. Web.Abstract
Telomerase in Saccharomyces cerevisiae binds and preferentially elongates short telomeres, and this process requires the checkpoint kinase Tel1. Here we show that the Mre11 complex bound preferentially to short telomeres, which could explain the preferential binding of Tel1 to these ends. Compared to wild-type length telomeres, short telomeres generated by incomplete replication had low levels of the telomerase inhibitory protein Rif2. Moreover, in the absence of Rif2, Tel1 bound equally well to short and wild-type length telomeres, suggesting that low Rif2 content marks short telomeres for preferential elongation. In congenic strains, a double-strand break bound at least 140 times as much Mec1 in the first cell cycle after breakage as did a short telomere in the same time frame. Binding of replication protein A was also much lower at short telomeres. The absence of Mec1 at short telomeres could explain why they do not trigger a checkpoint-mediated cell-cycle arrest.
Fachinetti, Daniele, et al.Replication termination at eukaryotic chromosomes is mediated by Top2 and occurs at genomic loci containing pausing elements.”. Mol Cell 39.4 (2010): , 39, 4, 595-605. Web.Abstract
Chromosome replication initiates at multiple replicons and terminates when forks converge. In E. coli, the Tus-TER complex mediates polar fork converging at the terminator region, and aberrant termination events challenge chromosome integrity and segregation. Since in eukaryotes, termination is less characterized, we used budding yeast to identify the factors assisting fork fusion at replicating chromosomes. Using genomic and mechanistic studies, we have identified and characterized 71 chromosomal termination regions (TERs). TERs contain fork pausing elements that influence fork progression and merging. The Rrm3 DNA helicase assists fork progression across TERs, counteracting the accumulation of X-shaped structures. The Top2 DNA topoisomerase associates at TERs in S phase, and G2/M facilitates fork fusion and prevents DNA breaks and genome rearrangements at TERs. We propose that in eukaryotes, replication fork barriers, Rrm3, and Top2 coordinate replication fork progression and fusion at TERs, thus counteracting abnormal genomic transitions.
2009
Zakian, Virginia A. “The ends have arrived.”. Cell 139.6 (2009): , 139, 6, 1038-40. Web.Abstract
The 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider, and Jack Szostak for their contributions to our understanding of how the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes, telomeres, are replicated by a specialized reverse transcriptase, telomerase. I present a personal view of the telomere field, putting the contributions of these three Nobel laureates into historical context.
Azvolinsky, Anna, et al.Highly transcribed RNA polymerase II genes are impediments to replication fork progression in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.”. Mol Cell 34.6 (2009): , 34, 6, 722-34. Web.Abstract
Replication forks face multiple obstacles that slow their progression. By two-dimensional gel analysis, yeast forks pause at stable DNA protein complexes, and this pausing is greatly increased in the absence of the Rrm3 helicase. We used a genome-wide approach to identify 96 sites of very high DNA polymerase binding in wild-type cells. Most of these binding sites were not previously identified pause sites. Rather, the most highly represented genomic category among high DNA polymerase binding sites was the open reading frames (ORFs) of highly transcribed RNA polymerase II genes. Twice as many pause sites were identified in rrm3 compared with wild-type cells, as pausing in this strain occurred at both highly transcribed RNA polymerase II genes and the previously identified protein DNA complexes. ORFs of highly transcribed RNA polymerase II genes are a class of natural pause sites that are not exacerbated in rrm3 cells.
Ribeyre, Cyril, et al.The yeast Pif1 helicase prevents genomic instability caused by G-quadruplex-forming CEB1 sequences in vivo.”. PLoS Genet 55 (2009): , 5, 5, e1000475. Web.Abstract
In budding yeast, the Pif1 DNA helicase is involved in the maintenance of both nuclear and mitochondrial genomes, but its role in these processes is still poorly understood. Here, we provide evidence for a new Pif1 function by demonstrating that its absence promotes genetic instability of alleles of the G-rich human minisatellite CEB1 inserted in the Saccharomyces cerevisiae genome, but not of other tandem repeats. Inactivation of other DNA helicases, including Sgs1, had no effect on CEB1 stability. In vitro, we show that CEB1 repeats formed stable G-quadruplex (G4) secondary structures and the Pif1 protein unwinds these structures more efficiently than regular B-DNA. Finally, synthetic CEB1 arrays in which we mutated the potential G4-forming sequences were no longer destabilized in pif1Delta cells. Hence, we conclude that CEB1 instability in pif1Delta cells depends on the potential to form G-quadruplex structures, suggesting that Pif1 could play a role in the metabolism of G4-forming sequences.
2008
Sabourin, Michelle, and Virginia A Zakian. “ATM-like kinases and regulation of telomerase: lessons from yeast and mammals.”. Trends Cell Biol 18.7 (2008): , 18, 7, 337-46. Web.Abstract
Telomeres, the essential structures at the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes, are composed of G-rich DNA and asociated proteins. These structures are crucial for the integrity of the genome, because they protect chromosome ends from degradation and distinguish natural ends from chromosomal breaks. The complete replication of telomeres requires a telomere-dedicated reverse transcriptase called telomerase. Paradoxically, proteins that promote the very activities against which telomeres protect, namely DNA repair, recombination and checkpoint activation, are integral to both telomeric chromatin and telomere elongation. This review focuses on recent findings that shed light on the roles of ATM-like kinases and other checkpoint and repair proteins in telomere maintenance, replication and checkpoint signaling.
Webb, Christopher J, and Virginia A Zakian. “Identification and characterization of the Schizosaccharomyces pombe TER1 telomerase RNA.”. Nat Struct Mol Biol 15.1 (2008): , 15, 1, 34-42. Web.Abstract
Although the catalytic subunit of the Schizosaccharomyces pombe telomerase holoenzyme was identified over ten years ago, the unusual heterogeneity of its telomeric DNA made it difficult to identify its RNA component. We used a new two-step immunoprecipitation and reverse transcription-PCR technique to identify the S. pombe telomerase RNA, which we call TER1. TER1 RNA was 1,213 nucleotides long, similar in size to the Saccharomyces cerevisiae telomerase RNA, TLC1. TER1 RNA associated in vivo with the two known subunits of the S. pombe telomerase holoenzyme, Est1p and Trt1p, and neither association was dependent on the other holoenzyme component. We present a model to explain how telomerase introduces heterogeneity into S. pombe telomeres. The technique used here to identify TER1 should be generally applicable to other model organisms.

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