Telomerase: a therapeutic target for the third millennium?

Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2000 May;34(2):111-26. doi: 10.1016/s1040-8428(00)00057-3.


Telomerase offers the potential opportunity to control cell proliferation by interfering with a totally new and unique biological process which is cell senescence. The aim of this review is to impartially present the state of the art in telomerase with the pros and the cons of the current scientific situation of this fast-growing and fascinating topic for answering the key question asked by experimental and medical oncologists: Will telomerase be a therapeutic target for the third millenium? The most convincing argument (which is a scientifically documented one) for going ahead with this target is obviously the strong correlation existing between the level and frequency of telomerase expression and the malignant properties of tumors. This has been now largely documented in established tumor cell lines and fresh tumor samples obtained from patients. Noteworthy is the very important difference of telomerase expression between malignant and normal tissues. This difference is much higher than those observed for classical enzymatic targets of chemotherapy such as thymidylate synthetase, dihydrofolate reductase and topoisomerases. If this translates to the clinical situation, telomerase inhibitors might display a good selectivity for tumor cells with a minimal toxicity for normal tissues. The most appealing criticism (which is still purely speculative) is obviously the clinical relevance of inhibiting telomerase in cancer patients. According to the paradigm currently proposed for telomeres and telomerases, it can be predicted that telomerase inhibition will not affect a tumor until its telomeres reach the critical size for entering senescence. This means that during anti-telomerase therapy, the tumor cells will continue grow undergoing 20-30 divisions until the telomeres reach a critical size leading to tumor senescence. Does this make sense, especially in patients with advanced tumors at the beginning of the therapy? Ultimately, the definitive answer to the question will not come from intellectual speculation but from the properties of telomerase inhibitors, first in tumor bearing animals, then finally in cancer patients! Several institutions are very active in the development of telomerase inhibitors. Different stategies are used: direct inhibition of telomerase, interference with telomeres (G quartets), interaction with other proteins involved in the regulation of telomerase and telomeres.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / metabolism*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Drug Design
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / metabolism
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Molecular Structure
  • Telomerase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Telomerase / genetics
  • Telomerase / metabolism
  • Telomere / chemistry
  • Telomere / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Telomerase