In mammals, maintenance of the linear chromosome ends (or telomeres) involves faithful replication of genetic materials and protection against DNA damage signals, to ensure genome stability and integrity. These tasks are carried out by the telomerase holoenzyme and a unique nucleoprotein structure in which an array of telomere-associated proteins bind to telomeric DNA to form special protein/DNA complexes. The telomerase complex, which is comprised of telomeric reverse transcriptase (TERT), telomeric RNA component (TERC), and other assistant factors, is responsible for adding telomeric repeats to the ends of chromosomes. Without proper telomere maintenance, telomere length will shorten with successive round of DNA replication due to the so-called end replication problem. Aberrant regulation of telomeric proteins and/or telomerase may lead to abnormalities that can result in diseases such as dyskeratosis congenita (DC) and cancers. Understanding the mechanisms that regulate telomere homeostasis and the factors that contribute to telomere dysfunction should aid us in developing diagnostic and therapeutic tools for these diseases.
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