Human Cancer Cells Harbor T-Stumps, a Distinct Class of Extremely Short Telomeres

Lifeng Xu, Elizabeth H. Blackburn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Using a modified single telomere length analysis protocol (STELA) to clone and examine the sequence composition of individual human XpYp telomeres, we discovered a distinct class of extremely short telomeres in human cancer cells with active telomerase. We name them "t-stumps," to distinguish them from the well-regulated longer bulk telomeres. T-stumps contained arrangements of telomeric repeat variants and a minimal run of seven canonical telomeric TTAGGG repeats, but all could bind at least one TRF1 or TRF2 in vitro. The abundance of t-stumps was unaffected by ATM alteration but could be changed by manipulating telomerase catalytic subunit (hTERT) levels in cancer cells. We propose that in the setting of active telomerase and compromised checkpoints characteristic of human cancer cells, t-stumps define the minimal telomeric unit that can still be protected by a TRF1/TRF2-capping complex and, further, that hTERT (or telomerase) may have a role in protecting t-stumps.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)315-327
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Cell
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 26 2007



ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology


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