Progressive loss of the telomeric ends of chromosomes caused by the semi-conservative mechanism of DNA replication is an important timing mechanism which controls the number of cells doubling. Telomerase is an enzyme which elongates one chain of the telomeric DNA and compensates for its shortening during replication. Therefore, telomerase activity serves as a proliferation marker. Telomerase activity is not detected in most somatic cells, with the exception of embryonic tissues, stem cells, and reproductive organs. In most tumor cells (80-90%), telomerase is activated and plays the role of the main instrument that supports the telomere length, which can be used for the diagnostics of neoplastic transformation. This is the primary reason why assays regarding the development of telomerase activity have attracted the attention of researchers. Telomerase activity testing may be useful in the search for telomerase inhibitors, which have the potential to be anti-cancer drugs. Moreover, telomerase activation may play a positive role in tissue regeneration; e.g., after partial removal of the liver or cardiac infarction. All telomerase activity detection assays can be divided into two large groups: those based on direct detection of telomerase products, and those based on different systems of amplification of the signals from DNA that yield from telomerase. The methods discussed in this review are suitable for testing telomerase activity in different samples: in protozoa and mammalian cells, mixed cellular populations, and tissues.
Keywords: DNA determination; physicochemical methods; polymerase activity assay; telomerase; telomerase activity assay; tumor diagnostics.