Telomerase RNA is an essential component of the ribonucleoprotein enzyme involved in telomere length maintenance, a process implicated in cellular senescence and cancer. Vertebrate telomerase RNAs contain a box H/ACA snoRNA motif that is not required for telomerase activity in vitro but is essential in vivo. Using the Xenopus oocyte system, we have found that the box H/ACA motif functions in the subcellular localization of telomerase RNA. We have characterized the transport and biogenesis of telomerase RNA by injecting labeled wild-type and variant RNAs into Xenopus oocytes and assaying nucleocytoplasmic distribution, intranuclear localization, modification, and protein binding. Although yeast telomerase RNA shares characteristics of spliceosomal snRNAs, we show that human telomerase RNA is not associated with Sm proteins or efficiently imported into the nucleus. In contrast, the transport properties of vertebrate telomerase RNA resemble those of snoRNAs; telomerase RNA is retained in the nucleus and targeted to nucleoli. Furthermore, both nuclear retention and nucleolar localization depend on the box H/ACA motif. Our findings suggest that the H/ACA motif confers functional localization of vertebrate telomerase RNAs to the nucleus, the compartment where telomeres are synthesized. We have also found that telomerase RNA localizes to Cajal bodies, intranuclear structures where it is thought that assembly of various cellular RNPs takes place. Our results identify the Cajal body as a potential site of telomerase RNP biogenesis.
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