Telomere maintenance without telomerase

Chromosoma. 1997 Jul;106(2):63-9. doi: 10.1007/s004120050225.


Telomeres are nucleoprotein structures at the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes that perform a number of vital functions. They allow a cell to distinguish between natural chromosome ends and chromosome breaks in order to delay the cell cycle and repair the broken end. Telomeres also compensate for the inability of DNA polymerase to replicate the chromosome completely. In most eukaryotes a special reverse transcriptase, telomerase, adds telomeric DNA repeats to the chromosome ends using an internal RNA template. However, evidence is accumulating for alternative elongation mechanisms in a variety of eukaryotes. In the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and possibly in humans, both of which normally use telomerase, a different mechanism can be used for chromosome length maintenance when telomerase is inactive or inactivated. Yeast apparently uses recombination for this purpose; the mechanism in humans is not known. Some insect and plant species, on the other hand, do not use telomerase as their primary mechanism for maintaining chromosome length. Drosophila makes use of specific retrotransposons for this purpose, while other dipterans use recombination. We summarize here the current knowledge of these alternative telomere elongation mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Insecta / enzymology
  • Kluyveromyces / enzymology
  • Nucleoproteins / metabolism*
  • Plants / enzymology
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / enzymology
  • Telomerase / deficiency*
  • Telomere / metabolism*
  • Tetrahymena / enzymology


  • Nucleoproteins
  • Telomerase