The role of telomeres and telomerase complex in haematological neoplasia

Human telomeres (discovery of telomere structure and function has been recently awarded The Nobel Prize) consist of approximately 5-12 kb of tandem repeated sequences (TTAGGG)n and associated proteins capping chromosome ends which prevent degradation, loss of genetic information, end-to-end fusion, senescence and apoptosis. Due to the end-replication problem, telomere repeats are lost with each cell division, eventually leading to genetic instability and cellular senescence when telomeres become critically short. Stabilization of the telomeric DNA through telomerase activation, unique reverse transcriptase, or activation of the alternative mechanism of telomere maintenance is essential if the cells are to survive and proliferate indefinitely. Telomerase is expressed during early development and remains fully active in specific germline cells, but is undetectable in most normal somatic cells. High level of telomerase activity is detected in almost 90% of human tumours and immortalized cell lines. The hematopoietic compartment may develop genetic instability as a consequence of telomere erosion, resulting in aplastic anaemia (AA) and increased risk of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). Genetic instability associated with telomere dysfunction (i.e. short telomeres) is an early event in carcinogenesis. The molecular cytogenetic method telomere/centromere fluorescence in situ hybridization (T/C-FISH) can be used to characterize the telomere length of hematopoietic cells. This review describes recent advances in the molecular characterization of telomere system, the regulation of telomerase activity in cancer pathogenesis and shows that the telomeric length could be a potential clinical marker of hematologic neoplasia and prognosis of disease.

Via Pub Med