Skin is a self-renewing tissue that is required to go through extensive proliferation throughout the lifespan of an organism. Telomere shortening acts as a mitotic clock that prevents aberrant proliferation such as cancer. A consequence of this protection is cellular senescence and ageing. The telomerase enzyme complex maintains telomere length in germline cells and in cancer cells. Telomerase is also active in certain somatic cells such as those in the epidermis but is almost undetectable in the dermis. Increasing evidence indicates that telomerase plays a significant role in maintenance of skin function and proliferation. Mutations in telomerase component genes in the disease dyskeratosis congenita result in numerous epidermal abnormalities. Studies also indicate that telomerase activity in epidermal stem cells might have roles that go beyond telomere elongation. Telomeres in skin cells may be particularly susceptible to accelerated shortening because of both proliferation and DNA-damaging agents such as reactive oxygen species. Skin might present an accessible tissue for manipulation of telomerase activity and telomere length with the potential of ameliorating skin diseases associated with ageing.
© 2011 John Wiley & Sons A/S.