DNA damage responses in neural cells: Focus on the telomere

Neuroscience. 2007 Apr 14;145(4):1439-48. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2006.11.052. Epub 2007 Jan 4.


Postmitotic neurons must survive for the entire life of the organism and be able to respond adaptively to adverse conditions of oxidative and genotoxic stress. Unrepaired DNA damage can trigger apoptosis of neurons which is typically mediated by the ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM)-p53 pathway. As in all mammalian cells, telomeres in neurons consist of TTAGGG DNA repeats and several associated proteins that form a nucleoprotein complex that prevents chromosome ends from being recognized as double strand breaks. Proteins that stabilize telomeres include TRF1 and TRF2, and proteins known to play important roles in DNA damage responses and DNA repair including ATM, Werner and the catalytic subunit of DNA-dependent protein kinase (DNA-PKcs). We have been performing studies of developing and adult neurons aimed at understanding the effects of global and telomere-directed DNA damage responses in neuronal plasticity and survival in the contexts of aging and neurodegenerative disorders. Deficits in specific DNA repair proteins, including DNA-PKcs and uracil DNA glycosylase (UDG), render neurons vulnerable to adverse conditions of relevance to the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and stroke. Similarly, early postmitotic neurons with reduced telomerase activity exhibit accentuated responses to DNA damage and are prone to apoptosis demonstrating a pivotal role for telomere maintenance in both mitotic cells and postmitotic neurons. Our recent findings suggest key roles for TRF2 in regulating the differentiation and survival of neurons. TRF2 affects cell survival and differentiation by modulating DNA damage pathways, and gene expression. A better understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which neurons respond to global and telomere-specific DNA damage may reveal novel strategies for prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative disorders. Indeed, work in this and other laboratories has shown that dietary folic acid can protect neurons against Alzheimer's disease by keeping homocysteine levels low and thereby minimizing the misincorporation of uracil into DNA in neurons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / genetics
  • Cellular Senescence / genetics*
  • DNA Damage / genetics*
  • DNA Repair-Deficiency Disorders / genetics
  • DNA Repair-Deficiency Disorders / metabolism
  • DNA Repair-Deficiency Disorders / physiopathology
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Humans
  • Nervous System / cytology
  • Nervous System / metabolism*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / genetics*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / metabolism
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / physiopathology
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Nuclear Proteins / genetics
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • TATA Box Binding Protein-Like Proteins / genetics
  • Telomere / genetics*
  • Telomeric Repeat Binding Protein 2
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / genetics


  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • TATA Box Binding Protein-Like Proteins
  • TERF2 protein, human
  • Telomeric Repeat Binding Protein 2
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins
  • ATM protein, human
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases