The role of telomerase and viruses interaction in cancer development, and telomerase-dependent therapeutic approaches

Cancer Treat Res Commun. 2021;27:100323. doi: 10.1016/j.ctarc.2021.100323. Epub 2021 Jan 27.


Human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT) is an enzyme that is critically involved in elongating and maintaining telomeres length to control cell life span and replicative potential. Telomerase activity is continuously expressed in human germ-line cells and most cancer cells, whereas it is suppressed in most somatic cells. In normal cells, by reducing telomerase activity and progressively shortening the telomeres, the cells progress to the senescence or apoptosis process. However, in cancer cells, telomere lengths remain constant due to telomerase's reactivation, and cells continue to proliferate and inhibit apoptosis, and ultimately lead to cancer development and human death due to metastasis. Studies demonstrated that several DNA and RNA oncoviruses could interact with telomerase by integrating their genome sequence within the host cell telomeres specifically. Through the activation of the hTERT promoter and lengthening the telomere, these cells contributes to cancer development. Since oncoviruses can activate telomerase and increase hTERT expression, there are several therapeutic strategies based on targeting the telomerase of cancer cells like telomerase-targeted peptide vaccines, hTERT-targeting dendritic cells (DCs), hTERT-targeting gene therapy, and hTERT-targeting CRISPR/Cas9 system that can overcome tumor-mediated toleration mechanisms and specifically apoptosis in cancer cells. This study reviews available data on the molecular structure of telomerase and the role of oncoviruses and telomerase interaction in cancer development and telomerase-dependent therapeutic approaches to conquest the cancer cells.

Keywords: Cancer development; Cancer treatment; Oncogenesis; Oncoviruses; Telomerase; Therapeutic approaches; Virus.

Publication types

  • Review