Role of Telomeres and Telomerase in Aging and Cancer

Cancer Discov. 2016 Jun;6(6):584-93. doi: 10.1158/2159-8290.CD-16-0062. Epub 2016 Mar 30.


Telomeres progressively shorten throughout life. A hallmark of advanced malignancies is the ability for continuous cell divisions that almost universally correlates with the stabilization of telomere length by the reactivation of telomerase. The repression of telomerase and shorter telomeres in humans may have evolved, in part, as an anticancer protection mechanism. Although there is still much we do not understand about the regulation of telomerase, it remains a very attractive and novel target for cancer therapeutics. This review focuses on the current state of advances in the telomerase area, identifies outstanding questions, and addresses areas and methods that need refinement.

Significance: Despite many recent advances, telomerase remains a challenging target for cancer therapy. There are few telomerase-directed therapies, and many of the assays used to measure telomeres and telomerase have serious limitations. This review provides an overview of the current state of the field and how recent advances could affect future research and treatment approaches. Cancer Discov; 6(6); 584-93. ©2016 AACR.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / genetics*
  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / genetics
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Telomerase / metabolism*
  • Telomere / genetics*
  • Telomere / metabolism
  • Telomere Homeostasis
  • Telomere Shortening


  • Telomerase