Telomerase Recognizes G-Quadruplex and Linear DNA as Distinct Substrates<sup>†</sup>

Telomeric DNA can assemble into a nonlinear, higher-order conformation known as a G-quadruplex. Here, we demonstrate by electrospray ionization mass spectrometry that the two repeat telomeric sequence d(TGGGGTTGGGGT) from <i>Tetrahymena thermophila</i> gives rise to a novel parallel four-stranded G-quadruplex in the presence of sodium. The G-quadruplex directly interacts with the catalytic subunit of <i>Tetrahymena</i> telomerase (TERT) with micromolar affinity, and the presence of telomerase RNA is not obligatory for this interaction. Both N- and C-terminal halves of TERT bind the G-quadruplex independently. This G-quadruplex is a robust substrate for both recombinant and cell extract-derived telomerase in vitro. Furthermore, the G-quadruplex weakens the affinity of wild-type telomerase for the incoming nucleotide (dTTP) and likely perturbs the nucleotide binding pocket of the enzyme. In agreement with this, a lysine to alanine substitution at amino acid 538 (K538A) within motif 1 of TERT dramatically reduces the ability of telomerase to extend G-quadruplex but not linear DNA. The K538A mutant retains binding affinity for the quadruplex. This suggests that telomerase undergoes changes in conformation in its active site to specifically accommodate binding and subsequent extension of G-quadruplex DNA. We propose that telomerase recognizes G-quadruplex DNA as a substrate that is distinct from linear DNA.