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Eur J Cancer. 1997 Apr;33(5):774-80.

Telomeres and telomerase in normal and malignant haematopoietic cells.

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Department of Pathology, UmeƄ University, Sweden.


The normal haematopoietic system harbours telomerase-competent cells with a capacity to upregulate the activity to notable levels in a telomere length-independent manner. Strong telomerase activity is found in progenitor stem cells and activated lymphocytes in vitro as well as in vivo, indicating that cells with high growth requirements can readily upregulate telomerase. Despite detection of telomerase activity, a gradual telomere erosion occurs in stem cells and lymphocytes, with significantly shortened telomeres at higher ages, a phenomenon that might be of importance for developing immunosenescence and exhausted haematopoiesis. In malignant haematopoietic disorders telomerase activity is a general finding with large differences in activity levels. The strongest telomerase expression has been shown in acute leukaemias and non-Hodgkin's lymphomas, especially high grade cases. There are indications that the level of activity might parallel tumour progression and be of prognostic relevance, but studies of larger patient materials are needed. An association between the cell cycle and telomerase activity exists, especially for normal haematopoietic cells, and induction of a differentiation programme in immortalised cell lines downregulates telomerase activity. The expression of telomerase activity seems to be regulated at different levels, since for immature bone marrow cells the level of activity seemed to parallel better the phenotype than the proliferation state. The frequent expression of telomerase in leukaemias and lymphomas makes these disorders interesting targets for future anti-telomerase therapy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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