Telomere length homeostasis requires that telomerase levels are limiting

EMBO J. 2006 Feb 8;25(3):565-74. doi: 10.1038/sj.emboj.7600952. Epub 2006 Jan 19.


Stabilization of telomere length in germline and highly proliferative human cells is required for long-term survival and for the immortal phenotype of cancer-derived cells. This is achieved through expression of telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT), which synthesizes telomeric repeats through reverse transcription of its tightly associated RNA template (TR). The telomeric repeat binding factor TRF1 inhibits telomerase at telomeres in cis in a length-dependent manner to achieve telomere length homeostasis. Here we manipulate telomerase activity over a wide range in cancer and primary cells. Concomitant overexpression of TERT and TR was necessary and sufficient to substantially increase telomerase activity. Upon overexpression, more telomerase associated with telomeres and telomeres elongated at a constant rate (up to 0.8 kb/population doubling (PD)) in a length-independent manner. Thus, in less than 50 PDs, the length of telomeres increased 3-8-fold beyond physiological size, while telomere-bound TRF1 and TRF2 increased proportionally to telomere length. Thus, long telomeres do not permanently adopt a structural state that is non-extendible. A low cellular concentration of telomerase is critical to achieve preferential elongation of short telomeres and telomere length homeostasis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Chromatin / metabolism
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Nuclear Proteins / metabolism
  • Ribonuclease P / biosynthesis
  • Ribonuclease P / genetics
  • TATA Box Binding Protein-Like Proteins / metabolism
  • Telomerase / biosynthesis
  • Telomerase / genetics
  • Telomerase / metabolism*
  • Telomere / genetics
  • Telomere / metabolism*
  • Telomeric Repeat Binding Protein 1 / metabolism
  • Telomeric Repeat Binding Protein 2


  • Chromatin
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • TATA Box Binding Protein-Like Proteins
  • TERF2 protein, human
  • Telomeric Repeat Binding Protein 1
  • Telomeric Repeat Binding Protein 2
  • TERT protein, human
  • Telomerase
  • Ribonuclease P