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  • Telomere Maintenance by PARP1: A New Perspective in Cancer Research

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    Visualization of telomeres (red and green) at the ends of human chromosomes (blue). Image Credit: O'Sullivan Lab




    Understanding the Role of PARP1 in Telomere Repair
    A recent publication in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology reveals novel insights into the enzyme PARP1, known primarily for its role in genome surveillance. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC Hillman Cancer Center have discovered that PARP1 extends its activity beyond DNA repair to include the maintenance of telomeres, the protective DNA sequences at chromosome ends. This study opens up potential new strategies for enhancing cancer treatments.

    Mechanism of PARP1 in Telomere Integrity
    PARP1 operates by detecting DNA breaks and then catalyzing the addition of ADP-ribose to certain proteins, signaling other repair mechanisms. This study, however, demonstrates PARP1's additional role in adding ADP-ribose to telomeric DNA itself, which was previously unanticipated in scientific literature. "No one thought that ADP-ribosylation at DNA was possible, but recent findings challenge this dogma," commented Roderick O’Sullivan, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular pharmacology at Pitt and investigator at UPMC Hillman.

    Experimental Insights
    The research team, including Anne Wondisford, Ph.D., a graduate student in Pitt’s Medical-Scientist Training Program, employed specific antibodies to detect ADP-ribose and telomere probes to analyze normal human cells versus PARP1-deficient cells. They observed that normal cells exhibited ADP-ribose attached to telomeric DNA, a process absent in cells lacking PARP1. Further experiments showed that in cells deficient in TARG1, an enzyme responsible for removing ADP-ribose, there was an accumulation of ADP-ribose at telomeres. This accumulation disrupts telomere replication and leads to premature telomere shortening, highlighting the critical protective role of PARP1 in maintaining genomic stability.

    To pinpoint the effects of ADP-ribose on telomeres, the team engineered bacterial enzymes, mimicking PARP1 function, to specifically target and modify telomeric regions in human cells. "We used a guidance system to direct the enzymes to add ADP-ribose only at the telomeres and nowhere else in the genome," explained O’Sullivan. The results showed that increased ADP-ribose at telomeres significantly compromised their integrity, causing rapid cellular death.

    Implications for Cancer Therapy
    The significance of PARP1 in DNA repair pathways is already established in the context of BRCA-deficient cancers, such as certain breast and ovarian cancers. These cancers depend heavily on PARP1 due to a lack of BRCA proteins, which are crucial for the homologous replication repair pathway. "When cancer cells can't make BRCA proteins, they become dependent on repair pathways that PARP1 is involved in," said O’Sullivan. This dependency is exploited by current cancer therapies that inhibit PARP1, leading to the death of cancer cells.

    However, with the new understanding that PARP1 also modifies DNA directly at telomeres, researchers can explore targeted therapies that might prevent cancer cells from developing resistance to PARP1 inhibitors. "Targeting PARP1 has been a big success story for cancer therapy, but some patients develop resistance to PARP1 inhibitors," O’Sullivan remarked, emphasizing the potential for refining existing therapies based on these findings.

    Future Directions
    This discovery raises numerous questions about the broader roles of ADP-ribose modifications and their implications for cancer biology. O’Sullivan and his team are poised to explore these avenues, aiming to develop more precise cancer treatments by harnessing the newly uncovered functions of PARP1.

    Original Publication
    Wondisford, A.R., Lee, J., Lu, R. et al. Deregulated DNA ADP-ribosylation impairs telomere replication. Nat Struct Mol Biol (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41594-024-01279-6

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