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Concept: Telomerase


Life history theory (LHT) predicts a trade-off between reproductive effort and the pace of biological aging. Energy invested in reproduction is not available for tissue maintenance, thus having more offspring is expected to lead to accelerated senescence. Studies conducted in a variety of non-human species are consistent with this LHT prediction. Here we investigate the relationship between the number of surviving children born to a woman and telomere length (TL, a marker of cellular aging) over 13 years in a group of 75 Kaqchikel Mayan women. Contrary to LHT’s prediction, women who had fewer children exhibited shorter TLs than those who had more children (p = 0.045) after controlling for TL at the onset of the 13-year study period. An “ultimate” explanation for this apparently protective effect of having more children may lay with human’s cooperative-breeding strategy. In a number of socio-economic and cultural contexts, having more chilren appears to be linked to an increase in social support for mothers (e.g., allomaternal care). Higher social support, has been argued to reduce the costs of further reproduction. Lower reproductive costs may make more metabolic energy available for tissue maintenance, resulting in a slower pace of cellular aging. At a “proximate” level, mechanisms involved may include the actions of the gonadal steroid estradiol, which increases dramatically during pregnancy. Estradiol is known to protect TL from the effects of oxidative stress as well as increase telomerase activity, an enzyme that maintains TL. Future research should explore the potential role of social support as well as that of estradiol and other potential biological pathways in the trade-offs between reproductive effort and the pace of cellular aging within and among human as well as in non-human populations.

Concepts: Human, Reproduction, Metabolism, Senescence, Organism, Reproductive system, Telomerase, Telomere


Life stress resulting from early-life experiences and domestic stress is linked with shorter leukocyte telomere length (LTL), but evidence on employment-related stress is scarce. We explored whether unemployment in early adulthood is associated with shorter LTL, a potential biomarker of premature aging.

Concepts: Death, Senescence, Biology, Cell division, Telomerase, Telomere, Immortality


Leucocyte telomere length (LTL) shortening is associated with cardiovascular ischemic events and mortality in humans, but data on its association with subclinical atherosclerosis are scarce. Whether the incidence and severity of subclinical atherosclerosis are associated with the abundance of critically short telomeres, a major trigger of cellular senescence, remains unknown.

Concepts: Death, Senescence, Cell division, Radical, Telomerase, Telomere, Maximum life span, Immortality


Chronic psychological distress has been linked to shorter telomeres, an indication of accelerated aging. Yet, little is known about relations of anxiety to telomeres. We examined whether a typically chronic form of anxiety–phobic anxiety–is related to telomere length.

Concepts: Senescence, Telomerase, Telomere


Psychological stress is suggested to accelerate the rate of biological aging. We investigated whether work-related exhaustion, an indicator of prolonged work stress, is associated with accelerated biological aging, as indicated by shorter leukocyte telomeres, that is, the DNA-protein complexes that cap chromosomal ends in cells.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Senescence, Cell division, Telomerase, Telomere, Acceleration, Immortality


Telomere shortness in human beings is a prognostic marker of ageing, disease, and premature morbidity. We previously found an association between 3 months of comprehensive lifestyle changes and increased telomerase activity in human immune-system cells. We followed up participants to investigate long-term effects.

Concepts: DNA, Vitamin D, Cancer, Senescence, Prostate cancer, DNA replication, Telomerase, Telomere


Telomeres are nucleoprotein caps flanking DNA. They are shortened by cell division and oxidative stress and are lengthened by the enzyme telomerase and DNA exchange during mitosis. Short telomeres induce cellular senescence. As an indicator of oxidative stress and senescence (2 processes thought to be fundamental to aging), telomere length is hypothesized to be a biomarker of aging. This hypothesis has been tested for more than a decade with epidemiologic study methods. In cross-sectional studies, researchers have investigated whether leukocyte telomere length (LTL) is associated with demographic, behavioral, and health variables. In prospective studies, baseline LTL has been used to predict mortality and occasionally other adverse health outcomes. Conflicting data have generated heated debate about the value of LTL as a biomarker of overall aging. In this review, we address the epidemiologic data on LTL and demonstrate that shorter LTL is associated with older age, male gender, Caucasian race, and possibly atherosclerosis; associations with other markers of health are equivocal. We discuss the reasons for discrepancy across studies, including a detailed review of methods for measuring telomere length as they apply to epidemiology. Finally, we conclude with questions about LTL as a biomarker of aging and how epidemiology can be used to answer these questions.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Cancer, Disease, Senescence, Cell division, Radical, Telomerase, Telomere


Although telomeres are heterochromatic, they are transcribed into noncoding telomeric repeat-containing RNA (TERRA). Here we show that RNA-DNA hybrids form at telomeres and are removed by RNase H enzymes in the budding yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. In recombination-competent telomerase mutants, telomeric RNA-DNA hybrids promote recombination-mediated elongation events that delay the onset of cellular senescence. Reduction of TERRA and telomeric RNA-DNA-hybrid levels diminishes rates of recombination-mediated telomere elongation in cis. Overexpression of RNase H decreases telomere recombination rates and accelerates senescence in recombination-competent but not recombination-deficient cells. In contrast, in the absence of both telomerase and homologous recombination, accumulation of telomeric RNA-DNA hybrids leads to telomere loss and accelerated rates of cellular senescence. Therefore, the regulation of TERRA transcription and telomeric RNA-DNA-hybrid formation are important determinants of both telomere-length dynamics and proliferative potential after the inactivation of telomerase.

Concepts: DNA, Molecular biology, Senescence, Yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Telomerase, Telomere, Brewing


Human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT) is responsible for telomere elongation, and its activity is strongly related to the expression level of the hTERT gene; however, the transcriptional regulation of telomeric genes, which play a central role in telomere maintenance and protection by facilitating replication and regulating telomerase access, is poorly understood. In this study, we aimed to reveal the changes in the mRNA expression of six components of the shelterin complex and three shelterin complex-associated factors in topoisomerase II inhibitor-treated human cultured cells. Using a quantitative gene expression analysis, we found that a reduction in telomeric repeat-binding factor 1 (TRF1), protection of telomeres (POT1), and TRF1-interacting ankyrin-related ADP-ribose polymerase 1 (TNKS1) mRNAs was observed in etoposide- and doxorubicin-treated HeLa and U-2 OS cells, while an increased TRF2-interacting telomeric protein (RAP1) mRNA level was observed in U-2 OS cells. Furthermore, doxorubicin suppressed TRF1 and POT1 mRNAs in both Saos-2 and WI-38 cells and increased RAP1 mRNA in WI-38 cells. In agreement with the results obtained in the quantitative gene expression analysis in U-2 OS cells, the topoisomerase II inhibitors negatively and positively regulated the POT1 and RAP1 gene promoters, respectively. Taken together, these results suggest the successful identification of unique topoisomerase II inhibitor-inducible telomeric genes and provide mechanistic insight into the regulation of telomeric gene expression by chemotherapeutic agents.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Transcription, Telomerase, Telomere, Telomerase reverse transcriptase


Oxidative stress regulates telomere homeostasis and cellular aging by unclear mechanisms. Glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH) is a key mediator of many oxidative stress responses, involving GAPDH nuclear translocation and induction of cell death. We report here that GAPDH interacts with the telomerase RNA component (TERC), inhibits telomerase activity, and induces telomere shortening and breast cancer cell senescence. The Rossmann fold containing NAD(+) binding region on GAPDH is responsible for the interaction with TERC, whereas a lysine residue in the GAPDH catalytic domain is required for inhibiting telomerase activity and disrupting telomere maintenance. Furthermore, the GAPDH substrate glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate (G3P) and the nitric oxide donor S-nitrosoglutathione (GSNO) both negatively regulate GAPDH inhibition of telomerase activity. Thus, we demonstrate that GAPDH is regulated to target the telomerase complex, resulting in an arrest of telomere maintenance and cancer cell proliferation.

Concepts: Cancer, Breast cancer, Enzyme, Senescence, Apoptosis, Telomerase, Glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate, Glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase