The genetics and clinical manifestations of telomere biology disorders

Genet Med. 2010 Dec;12(12):753-64. doi: 10.1097/GIM.0b013e3181f415b5.


Telomere biology disorders are a complex set of illnesses defined by the presence of very short telomeres. Individuals with classic dyskeratosis congenita have the most severe phenotype, characterized by the triad of nail dystrophy, abnormal skin pigmentation, and oral leukoplakia. More significantly, these individuals are at very high risk of bone marrow failure, cancer, and pulmonary fibrosis. A mutation in one of six different telomere biology genes can be identified in 50–60% of these individuals. DKC1, TERC, TERT, NOP10, and NHP2 encode components of telomerase or a telomerase-associated factor and TINF2, a telomeric protein. Progressively shorter telomeres are inherited from generation to generation in autosomal dominant dyskeratosis congenita, resulting in disease anticipation. Up to 10% of individuals with apparently acquired aplastic anemia or idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis also have short telomeres and mutations in TERC or TERT. Similar findings have been seen in individuals with liver fibrosis or acute myelogenous leukemia. This report reviews basic aspects of telomere biology and telomere length measurement, and the clinical and genetic features of those disorders that constitute our current understanding of the spectrum of illness caused by defects in telomere biology. We also suggest a grouping schema for the telomere disorders.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Chromosome Disorders / genetics*
  • Chromosome Disorders / pathology*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Inheritance Patterns / genetics
  • Mutation
  • Telomerase / genetics
  • Telomerase / metabolism
  • Telomere / genetics*
  • Telomere / pathology*


  • Telomerase