Aberrant formation of interstitial telomeric sequences (ITSs) promotes genome instabilities. However, it is unclear how aberrant ITS formation is suppressed in human cells. Here, we report that MLH1, a key protein involved in mismatch repair (MMR), suppresses telomeric sequence insertion (TSI) at intra-chromosomal regions. The frequency of TSI can be elevated by double-strand break (DSB) inducer and abolished by ATM/ATR inhibition. Suppression of TSI requires MLH1 recruitment to DSBs, indicating that MLH1's role in DSB response/repair is important for suppressing TSI. Moreover, TSI requires telomerase activity but is independent of the functional status of p53 and Rb. Lastly, we show that TSI is associated with chromosome instabilities including chromosome loss, micronuclei formation and chromosome breakage that are further elevated by replication stress. Our studies uncover a novel link between MLH1, telomerase, telomere and genome stability.
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