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Virchows Arch. 2000 Jul;437(1):1-16.

Telomeres, telomerase and cancer: an up-date.

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  • 1Laboratory of Pathology, University of Antwerp, Belgium.


In the mid 1990s, the hypothesis emerged that the upregulation or re-expression of a telomere-synthesising ribonucleoprotein, called telomerase, is a critical event responsible for continuous tumour cell growth. In contrast to normal cells, in which gradual mitosis-related erosion of telomeres eventually limits replicative life span, tumour cells have telomerase and show no loss of these chromosomal ends. These data suggest that telomere stabilisation may be required for cells to escape replicative senescence and to proliferate indefinitely. Because of the close association between telomerase and malignancy, both pathologists and clinicians expect this molecule to be a useful malignancy-marker and a new therapeutic target. This review focuses on the components of the human telomere and of the human telomerase enzyme. A synopsis of reports studying the clinical-diagnostic value of telomere length measurements, of telomerase activity analyses and of the in situ telomerase detection is given. Finally, a summary of recent experimental work that sheds new light on the biological role of this fascinating molecule is presented.

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