Telomerase, checkpoints and cancer

Cancer Surv. 1997;29:263-84.


Telomere dynamics and changes in telomerase activity are consistent elements of cellular alterations associated with changes in proliferative state. In particular, the highly specific correlations and early causal relationships between telomere loss in the absence of telomerase activity and replicative senescence or crisis, on the one hand, and telomerase reactivation and cell immortality, on the other, point to a new and important paradigm in the complementary fields of ageing and cancer. Although the signalling pathways between telomeres and transcriptional and cell cycle machinery remain undefined, recently described homologies between telomeric proteins and lipid/protein kinase activities important in chromosome stability provide evidence for the existence of pathways transducing signals originating in chromosome structure to cell cycle regulatory processes. Similarities between cell cycle arrest at senescence and the response of mortal cells to DNA/oxidative damage suggest overlap in the signal transduction mechanisms culminating in irreversible and stable cell cycle arrest. The feasibility of targeting telomeres/telomerase as a strategy for antiproliferative therapeutics has been shown in studies in yeast, in which mutations in specific telomere associated genes result in delayed cell death. Similarly, antisense oligonucleotide inhibition of telomerase activity in human tumour cells (HeLa) results in delayed cell death. The mechanism of cell death and possible escape from this fate require further study. In human cells, however, it would seem reasonable to predict that in these circumstances, apoptosis is induced in the vast majority of cells either directly in response to a DNA damage signal arising from critically shortened telomeres or as a secondary consequence of genetic instability.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / genetics*
  • Aging / physiology
  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Cycle / physiology
  • Cellular Senescence / genetics*
  • Cellular Senescence / physiology
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases / metabolism
  • DNA Damage / genetics
  • Genes, p53
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Telomerase / metabolism*
  • Telomere / genetics*
  • Telomere / physiology


  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases
  • Telomerase