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PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e47505. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0047505. Epub 2012 Nov 15.

In vitro and ex vivo inhibition of human telomerase by anti-HIV nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) but not by non-NRTIs.

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Genetics Graduate Program, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.


Telomerase is a specialized reverse transcriptase responsible for the de novo synthesis of telomeric DNA repeats. In addition to its established reverse transcriptase and terminal transferase activities, recent reports have revealed unexpected cellular activities of telomerase, including RNA-dependent RNA polymerization. This telomerase characteristic, distinct from other reverse transcriptases, indicates that clinically relevant reverse transcriptase inhibitors might have unexpected telomerase inhibition profiles. This is particularly important for the newer generation of RT inhibitors designed for anti-HIV therapy, which have reported higher safety margins than older agents. Using an in vitro primer extension assay, we tested the effects of clinically relevant HIV reverse transcriptase inhibitors on cellular telomerase activity. We observed that all commonly used nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs), including zidovudine, stavudine, tenofovir, didanosine and abacavir, inhibit telomerase effectively in vitro. Truncated telomere synthesis was consistent with the expected mode of inhibition by all tested NRTIs. Through dose-response experiments, we established relative inhibitory potencies of NRTIs on in vitro telomerase activity as compared to the inhibitory potencies of the corresponding dideoxynucleotide triphosphates. In contrast to NRTIs, the non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs) nevirapine and efavirenz did not inhibit the primer extension activity of telomerase, even at millimolar concentrations. Long-term, continuous treatment of human HT29 cells with select NRTIs resulted in an accelerated loss of telomere repeats. All tested NRTIs exhibited the same rank order of inhibitory potencies on telomerase and HIV RT, which, according to published data, were orders-of-magnitude more sensitive than other DNA polymerases, including the susceptible mitochondria-specific DNA polymerase gamma. We concluded that telomerase activity could be inhibited by common NRTIs, including currently recommended RTI agents tenofovir and abacavir, which warrants large-scale clinical and epidemiological investigation of the off-target effects of long-term highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) with these agents.

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