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Anticancer Drugs. 2008 Apr;19(4):329-38. doi: 10.1097/CAD.0b013e3282f5d4c2.

Telomerase inhibitors and 'T-oligo' as cancer therapeutics: contrasting molecular mechanisms of cytotoxicity.

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Department of Medicine and Cancer Research Center, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts 02118, USA.


Telomeres, the specialized structures that comprise the ends of chromosomes, form a closed structure, or t-loop, that is important in preventing genomic instability. Forced modulation of this structure, via overexpression of a dominant-negative form of telomere repeat binding factor 2, a protein critical for maintaining t-loop structure, for example, can result in the activation of DNA-damage responses, and ultimately cellular senescence or apoptosis. This response is also seen in normal somatic cells, where telomeres steadily decrease in length as cellular proliferation occurs owing to inefficient replication of terminal telomeric DNA. When telomere length becomes critically short, t-loop structure is compromised, and the cell undergoes senescence. Telomerase, the enzyme responsible for telomere length maintenance, is overexpressed in a majority of cancers. Its lack of expression in most normal somatic cells makes it an attractive target in designing cancer therapeutics. Compounds currently under development that seek to inhibit hTERT, the reverse transcriptase component of telomerase, include nucleoside analogs and the small molecule BIBR1532. Compounds inhibiting the RNA component of telomerase, hTERC, include peptide nucleic acids, 2-5A antisense oligonucleotides, and N3'-P5' thio-phosphoramidates. Recently, an oligonucleotide sharing sequence homology with terminal telomeric DNA, termed 'T-oligo', has shown cytotoxic effects in multiple cancers in culture and animal models. Independent of telomerase function, T-oligo is thought to mimic the DNA-damage response a cell normally experiences when the telomere t-loop structure becomes dysfunctional. In this review, the molecular mechanisms attributed to telomerase inhibitors and T-oligo, as well as their potential as cancer therapeutics, are discussed.

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