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Oncogene. 1999 Dec 13;18(53):7676-80.

Alternative pathways for the extension of cellular life span: inactivation of p53/pRb and expression of telomerase.

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Stanford University School of Medicine, Department of Molecular Pharmacology, Edward's Building, 300 Pasteur Drive Stanford, California, CA 94305-5332, USA.


Telomere shortening may be one of several factors that contribute to the onset of senescence in human cells. The p53 and pRb pathways are involved in the regulation of cell cycle progression from G1 into S phase and inactivation of these pathways leads to extension of life span. Short dysfunctional telomeres may be perceived as damaged DNA and may activate these pathways, leading to prolonged arrest in G1, typical of cells in senescence. Inactivation of the p53 and pRb pathways, however, does not lead to cell immortalization. Cells that overcome senescence and have an extended life span continue to lose telomeric DNA and subsequently enter a second phase of growth arrest termed 'crisis'. Forced expression of telomerase in human cells leads to the elongation of telomeres and immortalization. The development of human cancer is frequently associated with the inactivation of the pRb and p53 pathways, attesting to the importance of senescence in restricting the tumor-forming ability of human cells. Cancer cells must also maintain telomere length and, in the majority of cases, this is associated with expression of telomerase activity.

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