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FASEB J. 2002 Jul;16(9):935-42.

Hepatocyte telomere shortening and senescence are general markers of human liver cirrhosis.

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  • 1Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Endocrinology, Medical School Hannover, Germany.


Telomere shortening limits the number of cell divisions of primary human cells and might affect the regenerative capacity of organ systems during aging and chronic disease. To test whether the telomere hypothesis applies to human cirrhosis, the telomere length was monitored in cirrhosis induced by a broad variety of different etiologies. Telomeres were significantly shorter in cirrhosis compared with noncirrhotic samples independent of the primary etiology and independent of the age of the patients. Quantitative fluorescence in situ hybridization showed that telomere shortening was restricted to hepatocytes whereas lymphocytes and stellate cells in areas of fibrosis had significantly longer telomere reserves. Hepatocyte-specific telomere shortening correlated with senescence-associated beta-galactosidase staining in 84% of the cirrhosis samples, specifically in hepatocytes, but not in stellate cells or lymphocytes. Hepatocyte telomere shortening and senescence correlated with progression of fibrosis in cirrhosis samples. This study demonstrates for the first time that cell type-specific telomere shortening and senescence are linked to progression of human cirrhosis. These findings give a novel explanation for the pathophysiology of cirrhosis, indicating that fibrotic scarring at the cirrhosis stage is a consequence of hepatocyte telomere shortening and senescence. The data imply that future therapies aiming to restore regenerative capacity during aging and chronic diseases will have to ensure efficient targeting of specific cell types within the affected organs.

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