The wide-ranging clinical implications of the short telomere syndromes

Intern Med J. 2016 Apr;46(4):393-403. doi: 10.1111/imj.12868.


There is an increasing number of inherited disorders in which excessive telomere shortening underlies the molecular defect, with dyskeratosis congenita (DC) being the archetypal short telomere syndrome. DC is classically described as a mucocutaneous triad of oral leukoplakia, nail dystrophy and abnormal skin pigmentation. However, excessive telomere shortening can affect almost any organ system, so the clinical manifestations are protean, including developmental delay, cerebellar hypoplasia, exudative retinopathy, aplastic anaemia, acute myeloid leukaemia, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, idiopathic hepatic cirrhosis, head and neck cancer and dental abnormalities, and may be multi-systemic. Undiagnosed patients may be seen by essentially any medical subspecialist. Correct diagnosis is important to ensure appropriate management, and for initiating investigations to identify affected family members. Treatment is often supportive, with transplantation offering cure for pulmonary fibrosis or bone marrow failure. Higher rates of mortality and morbidity with transplantation often require regimen alterations, underscoring the need for correct diagnosis. Short telomeres result from mutations in genes essential for telomere maintenance (e.g. genes encoding subunits of the telomerase enzyme complex). Disease severity reflects not only the severity of the defect, but also the inheritance of short telomeres, giving rise to incomplete penetrance and genetic anticipation. Attendees of the inaugural Australian Short Telomere Syndrome Conference were updated on the current scientific and clinical understanding of these disorders, and discussed the best approach for management of these patients in the Australian context. This review will include recommendations from the conference and aims to increase awareness of short telomere disorders.

Keywords: Dyskeratosis Congenita; aplastic; cirrhosis; pulmonary fibrosis; telomere.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Congresses as Topic / trends
  • Dyskeratosis Congenita / diagnosis*
  • Dyskeratosis Congenita / genetics*
  • Dyskeratosis Congenita / therapy
  • Humans
  • Syndrome
  • Telomere / genetics
  • Telomere / metabolism
  • Telomere Homeostasis / physiology*