Xu Z, Duc KD, Holcman D, Teixeira MT

Genetics. 2013 Aug;194(4):847-57

The absence of telomerase in many eukaryotes leads to the gradual shortening of telomeres, causing replicative senescence. In humans, this proliferation barrier constitutes a tumor suppressor mechanism and may be involved in cellular aging. Yet the heterogeneity of the senescencephenotype has hindered the understanding of its onset. Here we investigated the regulation of telomere length and its control of senescenceheterogeneity. Because the length of the shortest telomeres can potentially regulate cell fate, we focus on their dynamics in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We developed a stochastic model of telomere dynamics built on the protein-counting model, where an increasing number of protein-bound telomeric repeats shift telomeres into a nonextendable state by telomerase. Using numerical simulations, we found that the length of the shortesttelomere is well separated from the length of the others, suggesting a prominent role in triggering senescence. We evaluated this possibility using classical genetic analyses of tetrads, combined with a quantitative and sensitive assay for senescence. In contrast to mitosis of telomerase-negative cells, which produces two cells with identical senescence onset, meiosis is able to segregate a determinant of senescence onset among the telomerase-negative spores. The frequency of such segregation is in accordance with this determinant being the length of the shortest telomere. Taken together, our results substantiate the length of the shortest telomere as being the key genetic marker determining senescence onset in S. cerevisiae