DNA-PKcs is the catalytic subunit of the DNA-dependent protein kinase (DNA-PK) complex that functions in the non-homologous end-joining of double-strand breaks, and it has been shown previously to have a role in telomere capping. In particular, DNA-PKcs deficiency leads to chromosome fusions involving telomeres produced by leading-strand synthesis. Here, by generating mice doubly deficient in DNA-PKcs and telomerase (Terc(-/-)/DNA-PKcs(-/-)), we demonstrate that DNA-PKcs also has a fundamental role in telomere length maintenance. In particular, Terc(-/-)/DNA-PKcs(-/-) mice displayed an accelerated rate of telomere shortening when compared with Terc(-/-) controls, suggesting a functional interaction between both activities in maintaining telomere length. In addition, we also provide direct demonstration that DNA-PKcs is essential for both end-to-end fusions and apoptosis triggered by critically short telomeres. Our data predict that, in telomerase-deficient cells, i.e. human somatic cells, DNA-PKcs abrogation may lead to a faster rate of telomere degradation and cell cycle arrest in the absence of increased apoptosis and/or fusion of telomere-exhausted chromosomes. These results suggest a critical role of DNA-PKcs in both cancer and aging.
Espejel, S., Franco, S., Sgura, A., Gae, D., Bailey, S.m., Taccioli, G.e., et al. (2002). Functional interaction between DNA-PKcs and telomerase in telomere length maintenance. * Espejel, Franco and Sgura contributed equally to this work. EMBO JOURNAL, 21, 6275-6287 [10.1093/emboj/cdf593].