The Werner syndrome helicase-nuclease--one protein, many mysteries

Sci Aging Knowledge Environ. 2002 Apr 3;2002(13):re2. doi: 10.1126/sageke.2002.13.re2.


Werner syndrome (WS) is an autosomal recessive condition characterized by an early onset of age-related symptoms that include ocular cataracts, premature graying and loss of hair, arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis, diabetes mellitus, osteoporosis, and a high incidence of some types of cancers. A major motivation for the study of WS is the expectation that elucidation of its underlying mechanisms will illuminate the basis for "normal" aging. In 1996, the gene responsible for the syndrome was positionally cloned. This advance launched an explosion of experiments aimed at unraveling the molecular mechanisms that lead to the WS phenotype. Soon thereafter, its protein product, WRN, was expressed, purified, and identified as a DNA helicase-exonuclease, a bifunctional enzyme that both unwinds DNA helices and cleaves nucleotides one at a time from the end of the DNA. WRN was shown to interact physically and functionally with several DNA-processing proteins, and WRN transgenic and null mutant mouse strains were generated and described. The substantial number of excellent reviews on WRN and WS that were published in the past 2 years (1-7) reflects the rapid pace of advances made in the field. Unlike those comprehensive articles, this review focuses on the biochemistry of the WRN protein and some aspects of its cell biology. Also considered are the putative functions of WRN in normal cells and the consequences of the loss of these functions in WS.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Helicases / genetics
  • DNA Helicases / metabolism
  • DNA Helicases / physiology*
  • Exodeoxyribonucleases
  • Humans
  • RecQ Helicases
  • Werner Syndrome / enzymology*
  • Werner Syndrome / genetics
  • Werner Syndrome Helicase


  • Exodeoxyribonucleases
  • DNA Helicases
  • RecQ Helicases
  • WRN protein, human
  • Werner Syndrome Helicase