Telomerase RNA is more than a DNA template.
The addition of telomeric DNA to chromosome ends is an essential cellular activity that compensates for the loss of genomic DNA that is due to the inability of the conventional DNA replication apparatus to duplicate the entire chromosome. The telomerase reverse transcriptase and its associated RNA bind to the very end of the telomere via a sequence in the RNA and specific protein-protein interactions. Telomerase RNA also provides the template for addition of new telomeric repeats by the reverse-transcriptase protein subunit. In addition to the template, there are 3 other conserved regions in telomerase RNA that are essential for normal telomerase activity. Here we briefly review the conserved core regions of telomerase RNA and then focus on a recent study in fission yeast that determined the function of another conserved region in telomerase RNA called the Stem Terminus Element (STE). (1) The STE is distant from the templating core of telomerase in both the linear and RNA secondary structure, but, nonetheless, affects the fidelity of telomere sequence addition and, in turn, the ability of telomere binding proteins to bind and protect chromosome ends. We will discuss possible mechanisms of STE action and the suitability of the STE as an anti-cancer target.