Telomeres and telomerase: a modern fountain of youth?

Rejuvenation Res. 2004 Summer;7(2):126-33. doi: 10.1089/1549168041553044.


Since ageing is a universal human feature, it is not surprising that, from the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh to Ponce de Leon seeking the "Fountain of Youth," countless people have dreamed of finding a way to avoid ageing, to no avail. Yet the search continues. In this review, we present one of the latest candidates: the enzyme telomerase, capable of elongating the tips of chromosomes, the telomeres. Research into the causes of cellular ageing established the telomeres as the molecular clock that counts the number of times cells divide and triggers cellular senescence. Herein, we review arguments both in favor and against the use of telomerase as an anti-ageing therapy. The importance of the telomeres in cellular ageing, the low or non-existent levels of telomerase activity in human tissues, and the ability of telomerase to immortalize human cells suggest that telomerase can be used as an anti-ageing therapy. On the other hand, recent experiments in mice have raised doubts whether telomerase affects organismal ageing. Results from human cells expressing telomerase have also suggested telomerase may promote tumorigenesis. We conclude that, though telomerase may be used in regenerative medicine and to treat specific diseases, it is unlikely to become a source of anti-ageing therapies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Rejuvenation / physiology*
  • Telomerase / physiology*
  • Telomere / physiology*


  • Telomerase