Telomeres and telomerase: implications for cancer and aging

Radiat Res. 2001 Jan;155(1 Pt 2):188-193. doi: 10.1667/0033-7587(2001)155[0188:tatifc];2.


Maintenance of telomere stability is required for cells to escape from replicative senescence and proliferate indefinitely. Telomere length is maintained by a balance between processes that lengthen telomeres (telomerase) and processes that shorten telomeres (the end-replication problem). Telomerase is a cellular ribonucleoprotein reverse transcriptase which stabilizes telomere length by adding hexameric (TTAGGG) repeats to the telomeric ends of the chromosomes, thus compensating for the continued erosion of telomeres. Introduction of the telomerase catalytic protein component into normal telomerase-negative human cells results in restoration of telomerase activity and extension of cellular life span. Human cells with introduced telomerase maintain a normal chromosome complement and continue to grow in a normal manner. Telomerase-induced manipulations of telomere length may thus be important not only for cell and tissue engineering but also for dissecting the molecular mechanisms underlying inherited genetic diseases, as well as defining the genetic pathways leading to cancer. Because almost all human tumors express telomerase activity, inhibition of telomerase may result in gradual erosion of telomeres and eventual cessation of cell proliferation or induction of apoptosis. Thus telomerase may also be a promising target for cancer therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cellular Senescence / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Telomerase / metabolism*
  • Telomere / physiology*


  • Telomerase