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PLoS One. 2009;4(3):e4934. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004934. Epub 2009 Mar 19.

A p53-dependent response limits epidermal stem cell functionality and organismal size in mice with short telomeres.

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Telomeres and Telomerase Group, Molecular Oncology Program, Spanish National Cancer Centre (CNIO), Madrid, Spain.


Telomere maintenance is essential to ensure proper size and function of organs with a high turnover. In particular, a dwarf phenotype as well as phenotypes associated to premature loss of tissue regeneration, including the skin (hair loss, hair graying, decreased wound healing), are found in mice deficient for telomerase, the enzyme responsible for maintaining telomere length. Coincidental with the appearance of these phenotypes, p53 is found activated in several tissues from these mice, where is thought to trigger cellular senescence and/or apoptotic responses. Here, we show that p53 abrogation rescues both the small size phenotype and restitutes the functionality of epidermal stem cells (ESC) of telomerase-deficient mice with dysfunctional telomeres. In particular, p53 ablation restores hair growth, skin renewal and wound healing responses upon mitogenic induction, as well as rescues ESCmobilization defects in vivo and defective ESC clonogenic activity in vitro. This recovery of ESC functions is accompanied by a downregulation of senescence markers and an increased proliferation in the skin and kidney of telomerase-deficient mice with critically short telomeres without changes in apoptosis rates. Together, these findings indicate the existence of a p53-dependent senescence response acting on stem/progenitor cells with dysfunctional telomeres that is actively limiting their contribution to tissue regeneration, thereby impinging on tissue fitness.

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