Telomerase emerged during evolution as a prominent solution to the eukaryotic linear chromosome end-replication problem. Telomerase minimally comprises the catalytic telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) and telomerase RNA (TR) that provides the template for telomeric DNA synthesis. While the TERT protein is well-conserved across taxa, TR is highly divergent amongst distinct groups of species. Herein, we have identified the essential functional domains of TR from the basal eukaryotic species Trypanosoma brucei, revealing the ancestry of TR comprising two distinct structural core domains that can assemble in trans with TERT and reconstitute active telomerase enzyme in vitro. The upstream essential domain of T. brucei TR, termed the template core, constitutes three short helices in addition to the 11-nt template. Interestingly, the trypanosome template core domain lacks the ubiquitous pseudoknot found in all known TRs, suggesting later evolution of this critical structural element. The template-distal domain is a short stem-loop, termed equivalent CR4/5 (eCR4/5). While functionally similar to vertebrate and fungal CR4/5, trypanosome eCR4/5 is structurally distinctive, lacking the essential P6.1 stem-loop. Our functional study of trypanosome TR core domains suggests that the functional requirement of two discrete structural domains is a common feature of TRs and emerged early in telomerase evolution.
ASJC Scopus subject areas