Telomeres, telomerase, and myc. An update

Normal human somatic cells have a finite life span in vivo as well as in vitro and retire into senescence after a predictable time. Cellular senescence is triggered by the activation of two interdependent mechanisms. One induces irreversible cell cycle exit involving activation of two tumorsuppressor genes, p53 and pRb, and the proper time point is indicated by a critical shortening of chromosomal ends due to the end-replication problem of DNA synthesis. The development of a malignant cancer cell is only possible when both mechanisms are circumvented. The majority of human cancers and tumor cell lines produce telomerase, a ribonucleoprotein with two components required for core enzyme activity: telomerase RNA (TR) and a telomerase reverse transcriptase protein (TERT). Telomerase adds hexameric DNA repeats (TTAGGG) to telomeric ends and thus compensates the progressive loss of telomeric sequences inherent to DNA replication. While TR of telomerase is present in almost all human cells, human TERT (hTERT) was found rate limiting for telomerase activity. Ectopic expression of hTERT in otherwise mortal human cells induced efficient elongation of telomeres and permanent cell growth. While hTERT-mediated immortalization seems to have no effect on growth potential and cell cycle check points, it bestows an increased susceptibility to experimental transformation. One oncogene that might activate TERT in the natural context is c-myc. Myc genes are frequently deregulated in human tumors and myc overexpression may cause telomerase reactivation and telomere stabilization which, in turn, would allow permanent proliferation. Is this a general strategy of incipient cancer cells to escape senescence? Several recent observations indicate that other scenarios may be conceived as well.

Via PubMed

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