Role of telomerase in normal and cancer cells

J Clin Oncol. 2000 Jul;18(13):2626-34. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2000.18.13.2626.


Shortening of the telomeric DNA at chromosome ends is postulated to limit the lifespan of human cells. In contrast, activation of telomerase, the enzyme that synthesizes telomeric DNA, is proposed to be an essential step in cancer cell immortalization and cancer progression. This review discusses the structure and function of telomeres and telomerase, the role of telomerase in cell immortalization, and the effects of telomerase inactivation on normal and cancer cells. Moreover, data on the experimental use of telomerase assays for cancer detection and diagnosis are reviewed. Finally, the review considers the evidence regarding whether telomerase inhibitors could be used to treat human cancers.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Telomerase / genetics
  • Telomerase / physiology*


  • Telomerase