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Cell Growth Differ. 2001 Nov;12(11):525-34.

Induced senescence in HeLa cervical carcinoma cells containing elevated telomerase activity and extended telomeres.

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Department of Genetics, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06510, USA.


Proliferation of normal somatic human cells in culture is limited by replicative senescence, a growth-arrested state that appears to be triggered by the erosion of telomeres. Tumor cells such as HeLa cervical carcinoma cells, which contain short telomeres, can be induced to undergo senescence by various manipulations including oncogene withdrawal. Repression of the human papillomavirus (HPV) type 18 E6/E7 genes in HeLa cells by the bovine papillomavirus E2 transcriptional regulatory protein results in reactivation of the dormant p53 and p105(Rb) tumor suppressor pathways in these cells, repression of telomerase, and profound growth arrest. Strikingly, the growth-arrested cells rapidly and synchronously acquired numerous characteristics of primary cells undergoing replicative senescence. To explore the role of telomerase and telomere length in induced senescence, we expressed an exogenous hTERT gene, which encodes the catalytic subunit of telomerase, to generate stable HeLa cell clones with elevated telomerase activity and extended telomeres. Expression of the E2 protein in these cells repressed HPV E6/E7 expression, activated tumor suppressor pathways, and induced senescence as assessed by growth arrest, morphological changes, senescence-associated beta-galactosidase expression, and increased autofluorescence. Cells carrying the hTERT gene and control cells displayed identical responses to E2 expression. Therefore, HeLa cell senescence induced by HPV repression is not triggered by short telomeres or low levels of telomerase activity.

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