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Mech Ageing Dev. 2003 Apr;124(4):403-8.

Telomere length and telomerase activity: effect of ageing on human NK cells.

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  • 1Laboratorio di Immunologia e Genetica, Istituto di Ricerca Codivilla Putti, I.O.R., Via di Barbiano 1/10, 40136, Bologna, Italy.


Telomeres are repeats of TTAGGG sequences located at the end of eukaryotic chromosomes. They are essential for stabilisation and protection of chromosomal ends and for the regulation of cell replicative capacity. Due to the end-replication defect of DNA polymerase, telomeres shorten progressively with each cell division and telomere length may be an indicator of the replicative history of a cell. Compensatory mechanisms for the telomere loss have been identified. The most widely studied one is mediated by telomerase a ribonuclear protein-enzyme complex that synthesise telomeric repeats. In this study we have investigated whether NK cells, derived from a group of old healthy subjects, underwent the modifications of telomere length and telomerase activity observed in other sub-populations of lymphocytes with advancing age. We demonstrated that: (a) telomere shortening occurred and telomerase activity decreased in human NK cells with ageing; (b) the rate of telomere loss was different under and over 80 years of age; (c) similarly to telomere shortening, the modification of telomerase activity was particularly evident in octogenarians; (d) subjects with the most evident modifications of telomeres and telomerase were the oldest and those with increased NK cell numbers.

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