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J Pediatr Endocrinol Metab. 2000;13 Suppl 6:1467-76.

Telomerase and the cellular lifespan: implications of the aging process.

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School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, University of Brighton, East Sussex, UK.


The aging process has multiple causes. However, there is now substantial evidence consistent with the hypothesis that (i) all normal mammalian somatic cells have a finite capacity to replicate and (ii) that gradual cell turnover throughout the lifespan of a mammal eventually exhausts this finite capacity. This results in a gradual accumulation of senescent (irreversibly post-mitotic) cells with increasing age. These cells display a radically different phenotype to their growing counterparts, which has the potential to compromise tissue function. Perhaps the best evidence for this is seen in Werner's syndrome, a rare genetic disease, in which patients display most of the features of accelerated aging, together with a profoundly compromised replicative lifespan in certain tissue lineages. Several classes of human cells are now known to count divisions by monitoring the progressive attrition of chromosomal ends (telomeres), leading to the activation of a p53-p21waf-dependent G1 checkpoint. Ectopic expression of telomerase has been shown to prevent senescence in several cell types and offers the potential for interventions in the aging process based on tissue engineering, gene therapy or homeografts. However, this telomere-driven senescence mechanism seems to be absent from rodents, which use telomere-independent means (perhaps based upon p14arf) to count divisions. Similar senescence pathways are now being reported in humans, and this, coupled with the demonstration of tissue-specific telomeric loss rates, has the potential to render strategies based on the use of telomerase dependent on the characteristics of the target tissue. Werner's syndrome may provide strong clues regarding the potential limitations and prospects of such future treatments.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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