Imaging assay to probe the role of telomere length shortening on telomere-gene interactions in single cells

Ning Zhang, Yanhui Li, Tsung Po Lai, Jerry W. Shay, Gaudenz Danuser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Telomeres are repetitive non-coding nucleotide sequences (TTAGGGn) capping the ends of chromosomes. Progressive telomere shortening with increasing age has been associated with shifts in gene expression through models such as the telomere position effect (TPE), which suggests reduced interference of the telomere with transcriptional activity of increasingly more distant genes. A modification of the TPE model, referred to as Telomere Position Effects over Long Distance (TPE-OLD), explains why some genes 1–10 MB from a telomere are still affected by TPE, but genes closer to the telomere are not. Here, we describe an imaging approach to systematically examine the occurrence of TPE-OLD at the single cell level. Compared to existing methods, the pipeline allows rapid analysis of hundreds to thousands of cells, which is necessary to establish TPE-OLD as an acceptable mechanism of gene expression regulation. We examined two human genes, ISG15 and TERT, for which TPE-OLD has been described before. For both genes, we found less interaction with the telomere on the same chromosome in old cells compared to young cells; and experimentally elongated telomeres in old cells rescued the level of telomere interaction for both genes. However, the dependency of the interactions on the age progression from young to old cells varied. One model for the differences between ISG15 and TERT may relate to the markedly distinct interstitial telomeric sequence arrangement in the two genes. Overall, this provides a strong rationale for the role of telomere length shortening in the regulation of gene expression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)61-73
Number of pages13
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Fluorescense In Situ Hybridization
  • Image analysis
  • Telomere
  • Telomere position effect over long distance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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