Alternative lengthening of telomeres: from molecular mechanisms to therapeutic outlooks

Cell Biosci. 2020 Mar 10;10:30. doi: 10.1186/s13578-020-00391-6. eCollection 2020.


To escape replicative senescence, cancer cells have to overcome telomere attrition during DNA replication. Most of cancers rely on telomerase to extend and maintain telomeres, but 4-11% of cancers use a homologous recombination-based pathway called alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT). ALT is prevalent in cancers from the mesenchymal origin and usually associates with poor clinical outcome. Given its critical role in protecting telomeres and genomic integrity in tumor cells, ALT is an Achilles heel of tumors and an attractive target for cancer therapy. Here, we review the recent progress in the mechanistic studies of ALT, and discuss the emerging therapeutic strategies to target ALT-positive cancers.

Keywords: ALT telomeric DNA synthesis; APBs; Alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT); BLM; Clinical therapy; FANCM; Phase separation; RAD52; Telomere; Telomere maintenance mechanism.

Publication types

  • Review