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Cytogenet Genome Res. 2008;122(3-4):308-14. doi: 10.1159/000167817. Epub 2009 Jan 30.

Mechanisms of telomeric instability.

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Department of Pathology, School of Medicine, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK.


Telomeres are the nucleoprotein structures that cap the ends of linear chromosomes. The length of telomeric DNA is an important determinant of function; with short telomeres triggering either replicative senescence or, in the absence of a functional DNA damage response, telomere fusion. Telomere fusion can trigger cycles of anaphase-bridging, breakage and fusion that can lead to genomic arrangements, of the type that are frequently found in cancer. Telomere erosion as a function of ongoing cell division results in the gradual loss of sequences from the terminus; this is superimposed by additional mutational mechanisms that generate large-scale, apparently sporadic, telomeric deletions. These events occur in normal human cells, irrespective of telomerase activity, and because they create telomeres that are capable of fusion, they represent a significant cell-intrinsic mutational mechanism. Here I review some of the potential mechanisms that may result in sporadic telomeric deletion.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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