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Ann Med. 2001 Mar;33(2):123-9.

Telomerase activation, cellular immortalization and cancer.

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Department of Adult Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


The maintenance of specialized nucleoprotein structures termed telomeres is essential for chromosome stability. Without new synthesis of telomeres at chromosome ends the chromosomes shorten with progressive cell division, eventually triggering either replicative senescence or apoptosis when telomere length becomes critically short. The regulation of telomerase activity in human cells plays a significant role in the development of cancer. Telomerase is tightly repressed in the vast majority of normal human somatic cells but becomes activated during cellular immortalization and in cancers. While the mechanisms for telomerase activation in cancers have not been fully defined, they include telomerase catalytic subunit gene (hTERT) amplification and trans-activation of the hTERT promoter by the myc oncogene product. Ectopic expression of hTERT is sufficient to restore telomerase activity in cells that lack the enzyme and can immortalize many cell types. Understanding telomerase biology will eventually lead to several clinically relevant telomerase-based therapies. These applications include inhibiting or targeting telomerase as a novel antineoplastic strategy and using cells immortalized by telomerase for therapeutic applications.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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