Telomerase and the aging cell: implications for human health

JAMA. 1998 Jun 3;279(21):1732-5. doi: 10.1001/jama.279.21.1732.


Recent research has shown that inserting a gene for the protein component of telomerase into senescent human cells reextends their telomeres to lengths typical of young cells, and the cells then display all the other identifiable characteristics of young, healthy cells. This advance not only suggests that telomeres are the central timing mechanism for cellular aging, but also demonstrates that such a mechanism can be reset, extending the replicative life span of such cells and resulting in markers of gene expression typical of "younger" (ie, early passage) cells without the hallmarks of malignant transformation. It is now possible to explore the fundamental cellular mechanisms underlying human aging, clarifying the role played by replicative senescence. By implication, we may soon be able to determine the extent to which the major causes of death and disability in aging populations in developed countries-cancer, atherosclerosis, osteoarthritis, macular degeneration, and Alzheimer dementia--are attributable to such fundamental mechanisms. If they are amenable to prevention or treatment by alteration of cellular senescence, the clinical implications have few historic precedents.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Cell Division
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic
  • Cellular Senescence / genetics
  • Cellular Senescence / physiology*
  • Disease
  • Humans
  • Telomerase / genetics
  • Telomerase / physiology*
  • Telomere / physiology*


  • Telomerase