The Connection Between Cell Fate and Telomere

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2021;1275:71-100. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-49844-3_3.


Abolition of telomerase activity results in telomere shortening, a process that eventually destabilizes the ends of chromosomes, leading to genomic instability and cell growth arrest or death. Telomere shortening leads to the attainment of the "Hayflick limit", and the transition of cells to state of senescence. If senescence is bypassed, cells undergo crisis through loss of checkpoints. This process causes massive cell death concomitant with further telomere shortening and spontaneous telomere fusions. In functional telomere of mammalian cells, DNA contains double-stranded tandem repeats of TTAGGG. The Shelterin complex, which is composed of six different proteins, is required for the regulation of telomere length and stability in cells. Telomere protection by telomeric repeat binding protein 2 (TRF2) is dependent on DNA damage response (DDR) inhibition via formation of T-loop structures. Many protein kinases contribute to the DDR activated cell cycle checkpoint pathways, and prevent DNA replication until damaged DNA is repaired. Thereby, the connection between cell fate and telomere length-associated telomerase activity is regulated by multiple protein kinase activities. Contrarily, inactivation of DNA damage checkpoint protein kinases in senescent cells can restore cell-cycle progression into S phase. Therefore, telomere-initiated senescence is a DNA damage checkpoint response that is activated with a direct contribution from dysfunctional telomeres. In this review, in addition to the above mentioned, the choice of main repair pathways, which comprise non-homologous end joining and homologous recombination in telomere uncapping telomere dysfunctions, are discussed.

Keywords: Ataxia- and Rad3-related (ATR); Ataxia-telangiectasia mutated (ATM); DNA damage response (DDR); DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs); Hayflick limit; Homologous recombination (HR); Homology directed repair (HDR); Human telomeric reverse transcriptase (hTERT); Nonhomologous end joining (NHEJ); Shelterin complex; T-loop; Telomerase; Telomere; telomeric repeat binding factor 2 (TRF2).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins
  • DNA Damage
  • DNA End-Joining Repair
  • Telomere* / genetics
  • Telomere* / metabolism
  • Telomere-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Telomere-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Telomeric Repeat Binding Protein 2* / genetics
  • Telomeric Repeat Binding Protein 2* / metabolism


  • Telomere-Binding Proteins
  • Telomeric Repeat Binding Protein 2
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins