Abnormal micronuclear telomeres lead to an unusual cell cycle checkpoint and defects in tetrahymena oral morphogenesis

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Telomere mutants have been well studied with respect to telomerase and the role of telomere binding proteins, but they have not been used to explore how a downstream morphogenic event is related to the mutated telomeric DNA. We report that alterations at the telomeres can have profound consequences on organellar morphogenesis. Specifically, a telomerase RNA mutation termed ter1-43AA results in the loss of germ line micronuclear telomeres in the binucleate protozoan Tetrahymena thermophila. These cells also display a micronuclear mitotic arrest, characterized by an extreme delay in anaphase with an elongated, condensed chromatin and a mitotic spindle apparatus. This anaphase defect suggests telomere fusions and consequently a spindle rather than a DNA damage checkpoint. Most surprisingly, these mutants exhibit unique, dramatic defects in the formation of the cell's oral apparatus. We suggest that micronuclear telomere loss leads to a 'dynamic pause' in the program of cortical development, which may reveal an unusual cell cycle checkpoint.

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