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TERRA and RAD51AP1 promote alternative lengthening of telomeres through an R- to D-loop switch
Tribhuwan Yadav 1, Jia-Min Zhang 1, Jian Ouyang 1, Wendy Leung 1, Antoine Simoneau 1, Lee Zou 2
Alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT), a telomerase-independent process maintaining telomeres, is mediated by break-induced replication (BIR). RAD52 promotes ALT by facilitating D-loop formation, but ALT also occurs through a RAD52-independent BIR pathway. Here, we show that the telomere non-coding RNA TERRA forms dynamic telomeric R-loops and contributes to ALT activity in RAD52 knockout cells. TERRA forms R-loops in vitro and at telomeres in a RAD51AP1-dependent manner. The formation of R-loops by TERRA increases G-quadruplexes (G4s) at telomeres. G4 stabilization enhances ALT even when TERRA is depleted, suggesting that G4s act downstream of R-loops to promote BIR. In vitro, the telomeric R-loops assembled by TERRA and RAD51AP1 generate G4s, which persist after R-loop resolution and allow formation of telomeric D-loops without RAD52. Thus, the dynamic telomeric R-loops formed by TERRA and RAD51AP1 enable the RAD52-independent ALT pathway, and G4s orchestrate an R- to D-loop switch at telomeres to stimulate BIR.