Hum Reprod 2013 02 9;28(2):414-22. Epub 2012 Oct 9.
Departament de Biologia Cel·lular, Fisiologia i Immunologia, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Campus UAB, Cerdanyola del Vallès 08193, Spain.
Study Question: What is the distribution of telomeric repeat-containing RNA (TERRA) and of telomerase in human fetal oocytes?
Summary Answer: TERRA forms discrete foci at telomeres of human fetal oocytes and it co-localizes with both the shelterin component telomeric repeat-binding factor 2 (TRF2) and the catalytic subunit of human telomerase at the telomeres of meiotic chromosomes.
What Is Known Already: TERRA is a structural element of the telomeric chromatin that has been described in somatic cells of many different eukaryote species. The telomerase enzyme is inactive in adult somatic cells but is active in germ cells, stem cells and in the majority of tumors; however, its distribution in oocytes is still unknown.
Study Design, Size, Duration: For this study, ovarian samples from four euploid fetuses of 22 gestational weeks were used. These samples were obtained with the consent of the parents and of the Ethics Committee of Hospital de la Vall d'Hebron.
Participants/materials, Setting, Methods: We analyzed the distribution of TERRA and telomerase in cells derived from human fetal ovaries. The co-localization of TERRA, telomerase and telomeres was performed by optimizing a combination of immunofluorescence (IF) and RNA-fluorescent in situ hybridization (RNA-FISH) techniques. The synaptonemal complex protein 3 (SYCP3), TRF2 and protein component of telomerase [telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT)] were detected by IF, whereas TERRA was revealed by RNA-FISH using a (CCCTAA)(3) oligonucleotide. SYCP3 signals allowed us to identify oocytes that had entered meiosis and classify them into the different stages of prophase I, whereas TRF2 indicated the telomeric regions of chromosomes.
Main Results And The Role Of Chance: We show for the first time the presence of TERRA and the intracellular distribution of telomerase in human fetal ovarian cells. TERRA is present, forming discrete foci, in 75% of the ovarian tissue cells and most of TERRA molecules (≈ 83%) are at telomeres (TRF2 co-localization). TERRA levels are higher in oocytes than in ovarian tissue cells (P = 0.00), and do not change along the progression of the prophase I stage (P = 0.37). TERRA is present on ≈ 23% of the telomeres in all cell types derived from human fetal ovaries. Moreover, ≈ 22% of TERRA foci co-localize with the protein component of telomerase (TERT).
Limitations, Reasons For Caution: We present a descriptive/qualitative study of TERRA in human fetal ovarian tissue. Given the difficult access and manipulation of fetal samples, the number of fetal ovaries used in this study was limited.
Wider Implications Of The Findings: This is the first report on TERRA expression in oocytes from human fetal ovaries. The presence of TERRA at the telomeres of oocytes from the leptotene to pachytene stages and its co-localization with the telomerase protein component suggests that this RNA might participate in the maintenance of the telomere structure, at least through the processes that take place during the female meiotic prophase I. Since telomeres in oocytes have been mainly studied regarding the bouquet structure, our results introduce a new viewpoint of the telomeric structure during meiosis.