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Pathology. 2006 Apr;38(2):103-13.

The role of telomeres and telomerase in the pathology of human cancer and aging.

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Department of Anatomical Pathology, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Camperdown, Australia.


Cellular senescence, the state of permanent growth arrest, is the inevitable fate of replicating normal somatic cells. Postulated to underlie this finite replicative span is the physiology of telomeres, which constitute the ends of chromosomes. The repetitive sequences of these DNA-protein complexes progressively shorten with each mitosis. When the critical length is bridged, telomeres trigger DNA repair and cell cycle checkpoint mechanisms that result in chromosomal fusions, cell cycle arrest, senescence and/or apoptosis. Should senescence be bypassed at such time, continued cell divisions in the face of dysfunctional telomeres and activated DNA repair machinery can result in the genomic instability favourable for oncogenesis. The longevity and malignant progression of the thus transformed cell requires coincident telomerase expression or other means to negate the constitutional telomeric loss. Practically then, telomeres and telomerase may represent plausible prognostic and screening cancer markers. Furthermore, if the argument is extended, with assumptions that telomeric attrition is indeed the basis of cellular senescence and that accumulation of the latter equates to aging at the organismal level, then telomeres may well explain the increased incidence of cancer with human aging.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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