The heterochromatic chromosome caps in great apes impact telomere metabolism
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In contrast with the limited sequence divergence accumulated after separation of higher primate lineages, marked cytogenetic variation has been associated with the genome evolution in these species. Studying the impact of such structural variations on defined molecular processes can provide valuable insights on how genome structural organization contributes to organismal evolution. Here, we show that telomeres on chromosome arms carrying subtelomeric heterochromatic caps in the chimpanzee, which are completely absent in humans, replicate later than telomeres on chromosome arms without caps. In gorilla, on the other hand, a proportion of the subtelomeric heterochromatic caps present in most chromosome arms are associated with large blocks of telomere-like sequences that follow a replication program different from that of bona fide telomeres. Strikingly, telomere-containing RNA accumulates extrachromosomally in gorilla mitotic cells, suggesting that at least some aspects of telomere-containing RNA biogenesis have diverged in gorilla, perhaps in concert with the evolution of heterochromatic caps in this species.