Exploring TERRA during Leishmania major developmental cycle and continuous in vitro passages
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Telomeres from different eukaryotes, including trypanosomatids, are transcribed into TERRA noncoding RNAs, crucial in regulating chromatin deposition and telomere length. TERRA is transcribed from the C-rich subtelomeric strand towards the 3′-ends of the telomeric array. Using bioinformatics, we confirmed the presence of subtelomeric splice acceptor sites at all L. major chromosome ends. Splice leader sequences positioned 5′ upstream of L. major chromosomes subtelomeres were then mapped using SL-RNA-Seq libraries constructed from three independent parasite life stages and helped confirm TERRA expression from several chromosomes ends. Northern blots and RT-qPCR validated the results showing that L. major TERRA is processed by trans-splicing and polyadenylation coupled reactions. The number of transcripts varied with the parasite's life stage and continuous passages, being more abundant in the infective forms. However, no putative subtelomeric promoters involved in TERRA's transcriptional regulation were detected. In contrast, the observed changes in parasite's telomere length during development, suggest that differences in telomeric base J levels may control TERRA transcription in L. major. Also, TERRA-R loops' detection, mainly in the infective forms, was suggestive of TERRA's involvement in telomere protection. Therefore, Leishmania TERRA shares conserved features with other eukaryotes and advances new telomere specific functions in a Public Health-impacting parasite.