Mechanisms regulating the proliferative potential of human CD8+ T lymphocytes overexpressing telomerase

J Immunol. 2006 Sep 15;177(6):3657-68. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.177.6.3657.


In human somatic cells, including T lymphocytes, telomeres progressively shorten with each cell division, eventually leading to a state of cellular senescence. Ectopic expression of telomerase results in the extension of their replicative life spans without inducing changes associated with transformation. However, it is yet unknown whether somatic cells that overexpress telomerase are physiologically indistinguishable from normal cells. Using CD8+ T lymphocyte clones overexpressing telomerase, we investigated the molecular mechanisms that regulate T cell proliferation. In this study, we show that early passage T cell clones transduced or not with human telomerase reverse transcriptase displayed identical growth rates upon mitogenic stimulation and no marked global changes in gene expression. Surprisingly, reduced proliferative responses were observed in human telomerase reverse transcriptase-transduced cells with extended life spans. These cells, despite maintaining high expression levels of genes involved in the cell cycle progression, also showed increased expression in several genes found in common with normal aging T lymphocytes. Strikingly, late passage T cells overexpressing telomerase accumulated the cyclin-dependent inhibitors p16Ink4a and p21Cip1 that have largely been associated with in vitro growth arrest. We conclude that alternative growth arrest mechanisms such as those mediated by p16Ink4a and p21Cip1 still remained intact and regulated the growth potential of cells independently of their telomere status.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / cytology*
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / enzymology*
  • Cell Proliferation*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chromosomes, Human
  • Clone Cells
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Gene Expression / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Karyotyping
  • Mitosis / genetics
  • Mitosis / immunology
  • Telomerase / biosynthesis*
  • Telomerase / genetics*
  • Telomerase / metabolism
  • Transduction, Genetic


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Telomerase