Minireview

BJC Open article

British Journal of Cancer (2007) 96, 1020–1024. doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6603671 www.bjcancer.com
Published online 13 March 2007

Telomere and telomerase in stem cells

E Hiyama1 and K Hiyama2

  1. 1Division of Life Science Research, Natural Science Center for Basic Research and Development, Hiroshima University, 1-2-3, Kasumi, Minami-ku, Hiroshima 734-8551, Japan
  2. 2Department of Translational Cancer Research, Research Institute for Radiation Biology and Medicine, Hiroshima University, Hiroshima, Japan

Correspondence: Professor E Hiyama, E-mail: eiso@Hiroshima-u.ac.jp

Received 24 October 2006; Revised 6 February 2007; Accepted 7 February 2007
Advance online publication 13 March 2007

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Abstract

Telomeres, guanine-rich tandem DNA repeats of the chromosomal end, provide chromosomal stability, and cellular replication causes their loss. In somatic cells, the activity of telomerase, a reverse transcriptase that can elongate telomeric repeats, is usually diminished after birth so that the telomere length is gradually shortened with cell divisions, and triggers cellular senescence. In embryonic stem cells, telomerase is activated and maintains telomere length and cellular immortality; however, the level of telomerase activity is low or absent in the majority of stem cells regardless of their proliferative capacity. Thus, even in stem cells, except for embryonal stem cells and cancer stem cells, telomere shortening occurs during replicative ageing, possibly at a slower rate than that in normal somatic cells. Recently, the importance of telomere maintenance in human stem cells has been highlighted by studies on dyskeratosis congenital, which is a genetic disorder in the human telomerase component. The regulation of telomere length and telomerase activity is a complex and dynamic process that is tightly linked to cell cycle regulation in human stem cells. Here we review the role of telomeres and telomerase in the function and capacity of the human stem cells.

Keywords:

telomere; telomerase; stem cell; cancer stem cell; dyskeratosis congenita

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