Background: Eukaryotic chromosomal ends are linear and are protected by nucleoprotein complexes known as telomeres. The complex structural anatomy and the diverse functions of telomeres as well as the unique reverse transcriptase enzyme, telomerase that maintains telomeres are under intensive scientific scrutiny. Both are involved in many human diseases including cancer, but also in ageing and chronic disease such as diabetes. Their intricate involvement in many cellular processes and pathways is being dynamically deciphered in many organs including the endometrium. This review summarizes our current knowledge on the topic of telomeres and telomerase and their potential role in providing plausible explanations for endometrial aberrations related to common gynaecological pathologies.
Objective and rationale: This review outlines the recent major findings in telomere and telomerase functions in the context of endometrial biology. It highlights the contemporary discoveries in hormonal regulation, normal endometrial regeneration, stem cells and common gynaecological diseases such as endometriosis, infertility, recurrent reproductive failure and endometrial cancer (EC).
Search methods: The authors carried out systematic PubMed (Medline) and Ovid searches using the key words: telomerase, telomeres, telomere length, human telomerase reverse transcriptase, telomeric RNA component, with endometrium, hormonal regulation, endometrial stem/progenitor cells, endometrial regeneration, endometriosis, recurrent miscarriage, infertility, endometrial hyperplasia, EC and uterine cancer. Publications used in this review date from 1995 until 31st June 2016.
Outcomes: The human endometrium is a unique somatic organ, which displays dynamic telomerase activity (TA) related to the menstrual cycle. Telomerase is implicated in almost all endometrial pathologies and appears to be crucial to endometrial stem cells. In particular, it is vital for normal endometrial regeneration, providing a distinct route to formulate possible curative, non-hormonal therapies to treat chronic endometrial conditions. Furthermore, our current understanding of telomere maintenance in EC is incomplete. Data derived from other malignancies on the role of telomerase in carcinogenesis cannot be extrapolated to EC because unlike in other cancers, TA is already present in proliferating healthy endometrial cells.
Wider implications: Since telomerase is pivotal to endometrial regeneration, further studies elucidating the role of telomeres, telomerase, their associated proteins and their regulation in normal endometrial regeneration as well as their role in endometrial pathologies are essential. This approach may allow future development of novel treatment strategies that are not only non-hormonal but also potentially curative.
Keywords: endometrial cancer; endometriosis; endometrium; estrogen; infertility; progesterone; recurrent miscarriage; stem cells; telomerase; telomere.
© The Author 2016. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.