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Immunol Rev. 2005 Jun;205:104-13.

In vivo regulation of telomerase activity and telomere length.

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Experimental Immunology Branch, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Telomeres are specialized DNA-protein structures found at the ends of all linear chromosomes. In mammalian cells, they consist of hexanucleotide (TTAGGG) repeats and multiple associated proteins. Telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes and prevent their recognition as DNA breaks. Loss of functional telomere length below a critical threshold can activate programs leading to cell senescence or death. Telomere length represents a balance between the loss of terminal telomeric repeats, which occurs during cell division with incomplete DNA replication, and the addition of telomeric repeats by the unique RNA-dependent DNA polymerase telomerase. Although most somatic cells do not express telomerase, telomerase is induced in lymphocytes at critical stages of development and activation. Telomerase expression thus may prolong the replicative capacity of lymphocytes and thereby enhance their function in immune responses. We have used murine model systems to address two broadly defined questions about lymphocyte telomere biology: how is telomerase physiologically regulated in T cells responding to antigen challenge, and what is the effect of transcriptionally altered telomerase expression on telomere length and, consequently, on immune function?

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