The telomere-associated homeobox-containing protein TAH1/HMBOX1 participates in telomere maintenance in ALT cells.J Cell Sci 2013; 126(Pt 17):3982-9JC
The majority of cancer cells rely on elevated telomerase expression and activity for rapid growth and proliferation. Telomerase-negative cancer cells, by contrast, often employ the alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT) pathway to maintain telomeres. ALT cells are characterized by long and dynamic telomeres and the presence of ALT-associated promyelocytic leukemia (PML) bodies (APBs). Previous work has shown the importance of APBs to the ALT pathway, but their formation and precise role remain unclear. Here, we demonstrate that a homeobox-containing protein known as HMBOX1 can directly bind telomeric double-stranded DNA and associate with PML nuclear bodies. Hence, we renamed this protein TAH1 for telomere-associated homeobox-containing protein 1. TAH1 knockdown significantly reduced the number of APBs and led to an increase in DNA damage response signals at telomeres. Importantly, TAH1 inhibition also notably reduced the presence of telomere C-circles, indicating altered ALT activity. Our findings point to TAH1 as a novel link between pathways that regulate DNA damage responses, PML nuclear bodies, and telomere homeostasis in ALT cells, and provide insight into how ALT cells may achieve sustained growth and proliferation independent of the telomerase.