Tales of tails: regulation of telomere length and telomerase activity during lymphocyte development, differentiation, activation, and aging

Immunol Rev. 1997 Dec:160:43-54. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-065x.1997.tb01026.x.


Telomerase activity and the regulation of telomere length are factors which have been implicated in the control of cellular replication. These variables have been examined during human lymphocyte development, differentiation, activation, and aging. It was found that telomere length of peripheral blood CD4+ T cells decreases with age as well as with differentiation from naive to memory cells in vivo, and decreases with cell division in vitro. These results provide evidence that telomere length correlates with lymphocyte replicative history and residual replicative potential. In contrast, telomere length appears to increase during tonsil B-cell differentiation and germinal center (GC) formation in vivo. It was also found that telomerase activity is highly regulated during T-cell development and B-cell differentiation in vivo, with high levels of telomerase activity expressed in thymocytes and GC B cells, and low levels of telomerase activity in resting mature peripheral blood lymphocytes. Finally, resting lymphocytes retain the ability to upregulate telomerase activity upon activation, and this capacity does not appear to decline with age. Although the precise role of telomerase in lymphocyte function remains to be elucidated, telomerase may contribute to protection from telomere shortening in T and B lymphocytes, and may thus play a critical role in lymphocyte development, differentiation and activation. The future study of telomerase and its regulation of telomere length may enhance our understanding of how the replicative lifespan is regulated in lymphocytes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Cellular Senescence*
  • Humans
  • Lymphocyte Activation*
  • Lymphocytes / cytology
  • Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Lymphocytes / physiology*
  • Telomerase / metabolism*
  • Telomere*


  • Telomerase