Bailey, S. Telomeres and Double-Strand Breaks – All's Well that “Ends” Well. … Radiat. Res. 169, 1–7 (2008).
Sometimes one's life (including one's science) makes a lot more sense when viewed from the perspective of time, reflected back on over a number of years. That has indeed been the case for me. Strangely enough, the story begins with chromosomes and “ends” with telomeres, both at Colorado State University. And, just as with chromosomes, a lot happened in between. Telomeres were first identified based on their function—they protected the physical ends of chromosomes from interaction with broken DNA ends created by ionizing radiation. While I was at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the sequence of human telomeres was discovered, making probes available that allowed us to re-examine and provide direct support of these early observations; thus began my fascination with telomeres. Chromosome orientation in situ hybridization (CO-FISH) also came onto the scene while I was in Los Alamos. This strand-specific modification of standard FISH, especially when combined with telomeric sequence probes, has proven to be a powerful approach that provides information not available by any other means. Applications have included pericentric inversion detection, distinction between leading- and lagging-strand telomeres, and identification of telomere-double-strand break (DSB) fusions. We also provided the first direct evidence that DSB repair proteins (DNA-PK in particular) are required for mammalian telomeric end capping, and we have been characterizing telomere dysfunction in NHEJ and HR repair-deficient backgrounds ever since. Cells must correctly distinguish between DNA ends represented by telomeres and DNA ends produced by DSBs if all is to end well. Just as these studies have provided new insight into the complex, often surprising, interactions at DNA ends, they also provoke new questions. Whereas it is now well established that DSB repair proteins associate with telomeres, most recently we've been asking whether the reverse scenario holds: Do telomere proteins interact with DSBs? We find that DSBs induced by ionizing radiations are not sufficient to recruit the essential telomere protein TRF2 as an early damage response, so perhaps this interplay is a one-way street. The rest of the story waits to unfold.