Telomere-related Markers for Cancer

Curr Top Med Chem. 2020;20(6):410-432. doi: 10.2174/1568026620666200106145340.


Telomeres are structurally nucleoprotein complexes at termini of linear chromosomes and essential to chromosome stability/integrity. In normal human cells, telomere length erodes progressively with each round of cell divisions, which serves as an important barrier to uncontrolled proliferation and malignant transformation. In sharp contrast, telomere maintenance is a key feature of human malignant cells and required for their infinite proliferation and maintenance of other cancer hallmarks as well. Thus, a telomere-based anti-cancer strategy has long been suggested. However, clinically efficient and specific drugs targeting cancer telomere-maintenance have still been in their infancy thus far. To achieve this goal, it is highly necessary to elucidate how exactly cancer cells maintain functional telomeres. In the last two decades, numerous studies have provided profound mechanistic insights, and the identified mechanisms include the aberrant activation of telomerase or the alternative lengthening of telomere pathway responsible for telomere elongation, dysregulation and mutation of telomereassociated factors, and other telomere homeostasis-related signaling nodes. In the present review, these various strategies employed by malignant cells to regulate their telomere length, structure and function have been summarized, and potential implications of these findings in the rational development of telomere- based cancer therapy and other clinical applications for precision oncology have been discussed.

Keywords: Cancer therapy; Gene transcription; TERC; TERRA; TERT; TERT promoter mutation; Telomerase; Telomere..

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Telomere / drug effects
  • Telomere / genetics
  • Telomere / metabolism*
  • Telomere Homeostasis / drug effects


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Biomarkers, Tumor