CDK phosphorylation of TRF2 controls t-loop dynamics during the cell cycle.

The protection of telomere ends by the shelterin complex prevents DNA damage signalling and promiscuous repair at chromosome ends. Evidence suggests that the 3' single-stranded telomere end can assemble into a lasso-like t-loop configuration1,2, which has been proposed to safeguard chromosome ends from being recognized as DNA double-strand breaks2. Mechanisms must also exist to transiently disassemble t-loops to allow accurate telomere replication and to permit telomerase access to the 3' end to solve the end-replication problem. However, the regulation and physiological importance of t-loops in the protection of telomere ends remains unknown. Here we identify a CDK phosphorylation site in the shelterin subunit at Ser365 of TRF2, whose dephosphorylation in S phase by the PP6R3 phosphatase provides a narrow window during which the RTEL1 helicase can transiently access and unwind t-loops to facilitate telomere replication. Re-phosphorylation of TRF2 at Ser365 outside of S phase is required to release RTEL1 from telomeres, which not only protects t-loops from promiscuous unwinding and inappropriate activation of ATM, but also counteracts replication conflicts at DNA secondary structures that arise within telomeres and across the genome. Hence, a phospho-switch in TRF2 coordinates the assembly and disassembly of t-loops during the cell cycle, which protects telomeres from replication stress and an unscheduled DNA damage response.