Fundamental mechanisms of telomerase action in yeasts and mammals: understanding telomeres and telomerase in cancer cells

Open Biol. 2017 Mar;7(3):160338. doi: 10.1098/rsob.160338.


Aberrant activation of telomerase occurs in 85-90% of all cancers and underpins the ability of cancer cells to bypass their proliferative limit, rendering them immortal. The activity of telomerase is tightly controlled at multiple levels, from transcriptional regulation of the telomerase components to holoenzyme biogenesis and recruitment to the telomere, and finally activation and processivity. However, studies using cancer cell lines and other model systems have begun to reveal features of telomeres and telomerase that are unique to cancer. This review summarizes our current knowledge on the mechanisms of telomerase recruitment and activation using insights from studies in mammals and budding and fission yeasts. Finally, we discuss the differences in telomere homeostasis between normal cells and cancer cells, which may provide a foundation for telomere/telomerase targeted cancer treatments.

Keywords: Hayflick limit; S. pombe; replicative senescence; shelterin; t-stumps; telomere length homeostasis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Saccharomycetales / chemistry
  • Saccharomycetales / enzymology
  • Saccharomycetales / genetics
  • Saccharomycetales / metabolism
  • Schizosaccharomyces / chemistry
  • Schizosaccharomyces / enzymology
  • Schizosaccharomyces / genetics
  • Schizosaccharomyces / metabolism
  • Telomerase / analysis
  • Telomerase / genetics
  • Telomerase / metabolism*
  • Telomere / chemistry
  • Telomere / genetics
  • Telomere / metabolism
  • Telomere Homeostasis*
  • Transcriptional Activation


  • Telomerase