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Mech Ageing Dev. 2009 Jan-Feb;130(1-2):3-9. doi: 10.1016/j.mad.2008.02.008. Epub 2008 Feb 23.

Coevolution of telomerase activity and body mass in mammals: from mice to beavers.

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Department of Biology, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627, USA.


Telomerase is repressed in the majority of human somatic tissues. As a result human somatic cells undergo replicative senescence, which plays an important role in suppressing tumorigenesis, and at the same time contributes to the process of aging. Repression of somatic telomerase activity is not a universal phenomenon among mammals. Mice, for example, express telomerase in somatic tissues, and mouse cells are immortal when cultured at physiological oxygen concentration. What is the status of telomerase in other animals, beyond human and laboratory mouse, and why do some species evolve repression of telomerase activity while others do not? Here we discuss the data on telomere biology in various mammalian species, and a recent study of telomerase activity in a large collection of wild rodent species, which showed that telomerase activity coevolves with body mass, but not lifespan. Large rodents repress telomerase activity, while small rodents maintain high levels of telomerase activity in somatic cells. We discuss a model that large body mass presents an increased cancer risk, which drives the evolution of telomerase suppression and replicative senescence.

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