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Hum Gene Ther. 2005 Jul;16(7):859-68.

Efficient inhibition of human telomerase reverse transcriptase expression by RNA interference sensitizes cancer cells to ionizing radiation and chemotherapy.

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Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Graduate School of Kanazawa University, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 920-8641, Japan.


Telomerase activation plays critical roles in tumor growth and progression in part through the maintenance of telomere structure. Indeed, the ubiquitous expression of telomerase in human cancers makes telomerase a promising target for cancer therapy. Genetic, pharmacologic, and antisense methods to inhibit telomerase have been described; however, in most cases, cancer cell death was observed only after many cell divisions. Here, using retroviral delivery of small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) specific for the human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT), we successfully inhibited telomerase activity in cervical cancer cell lines. Cells lacking hTERT expression exhibited significantly decreased telomerase activity and showed shortened telomeres and telomeric 3' overhangs with passage. These cells entered replicative senescence after a considerable number of cell divisions. Notably, the proliferative rate of these cells was significantly impaired, compared with control cells with telomerase activity, even in low-passage cells (population doubling 5). Likewise, colony-forming ability and tumorigenicity in mice were attenuated in low-passage cells lacking hTERT. We further examined the effects of chemotherapy and ionizing radiation on cells in which hTERT expression was suppressed. Cells lacking hTERT showed a significantly increased sensitivity, compared with control cells, to ionizing radiation or chemotherapeutic agents that induce DNA double- strand breaks, such as topoisomerase inhibitors or bleomycin. These findings suggest that an siRNA-based strategy can be applied to the development of novel telomerase inhibitors, the antitumor effects of which may be enhanced in combination with ionizing radiation and chemotherapy.

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