Telomeres shorten during ageing of human fibroblasts

Nature. 1990 May 31;345(6274):458-60. doi: 10.1038/345458a0.


The terminus of a DNA helix has been called its Achilles' heel. Thus to prevent possible incomplete replication and instability of the termini of linear DNA, eukaryotic chromosomes end in characteristic repetitive DNA sequences within specialized structures called telomeres. In immortal cells, loss of telomeric DNA due to degradation or incomplete replication is apparently balanced by telomere elongation, which may involve de novo synthesis of additional repeats by novel DNA polymerase called telomerase. Such a polymerase has been recently detected in HeLa cells. It has been proposed that the finite doubling capacity of normal mammalian cells is due to a loss of telomeric DNA and eventual deletion of essential sequences. In yeast, the est1 mutation causes gradual loss of telomeric DNA and eventual cell death mimicking senescence in higher eukaryotic cells. Here, we show that the amount and length of telomeric DNA in human fibroblasts does in fact decrease as a function of serial passage during ageing in vitro and possibly in vivo. It is not known whether this loss of DNA has a causal role in senescence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging*
  • Cell Survival
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chromosomes / ultrastructure*
  • Fibroblasts
  • Humans