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Nat Genet. 2000 Sep;26(1):114-7.

Telomerase-deficient mice with short telomeres are resistant to skin tumorigenesis.

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Department of Immunology and Oncology, National Centre of Biotechnology, Madrid, Spain.


Inhibition of telomerase is proposed to limit the growth of cancer cells by triggering telomere shortening and cell death. Telomere maintenance by telomerase is sufficient, in some cell types, to allow immortal growth. Telomerase has been shown to cooperate with oncogenes in transforming cultured primary human cells into neoplastic cells, suggesting that telomerase activation contributes to malignant transformation. Moreover, telomerase inhibition in human tumour cell lines using dominant-negative versions of TERT leads to telomere shortening and cell death. These findings have led to the proposition that telomerase inhibition may result in cessation of tumour growth. The absence of telomerase from most normal cells supports the potential efficacy of anti-telomerase drugs for tumour therapy, as its inhibition is unlikely to have toxic effects. Mice deficient for Terc RNA (encoding telomerase) lack telomerase activity, and constitute a model for evaluating the role of telomerase and telomeres in tumourigenesis. Late-generation Terc-/- mice show defects in proliferative tissues and a moderate increase in the incidence of spontaneous tumours in highly proliferative cell types (lymphomas, teratocarcinomas). The appearance of these tumours is thought to be a consequence of chromosomal instability in these mice. These observations have challenged the expected effectiveness of anti-telomerase-based cancer therapies. Different cell types may nonetheless vary in their sensitivity to the chromosomal instability produced by telomere loss or to the activation of telomere-rescue mechanisms. Here we show that late-generation Terc-/- mice, which have short telomeres and are telomerase-deficient, are resistant to tumour development in multi-stage skin carcinogenesis. Our results predict that an anti-telomerase-based tumour therapy may be effective in epithelial tumours.

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