DEC 02, 2020 10:52 AM PST

Telomere shortening doesn't only indicate ageing...

While telomere shortening has been thought to be an adverse sign of aging, new research suggests that the shortening of telomeres – the ends of chromosomes – may actually be a mechanism that acts to prevent the development of cancer. These findings are published in eLife and shed light on the complex relationship between telomeres and cancer.

Photo: Pixabay

This insight comes from the long-established idea that only cancers capable of activating the enzyme that adds telomeric DNA to the ends of chromosomes – telomerase – are able to overcome the finite telomere reserve and continue dividing. While this idea that shortening telomeres protect against cancer has been proven in mice models, the complexities of such a phenomenon in humans has yet to be fully explained.

"Telomeres protect the genetic material," says Titia de Lange, Leon Hess Professor at Rockefeller. "The DNA in telomeres shortens when cells divide, eventually halting cell division when the telomere reserve is depleted. Most clinically detectable cancers have re-activated telomerase, often through mutations," de Lange explains.

The new study was conducted by analyzing mutations in families with cancer histories in order to understand how telomere length influences tumor suppression. At de Lange's lab in the last decades, researchers have identified a protein called TIN2 that limits telomere length. When the protein is inhibited, telomerase lengthens telomeres without limit. This study focused on deepening the scientific knowledge on TIN2.

From the team’s analyses, de Lange explains: "The data show that if you're born with long telomeres, you are at greater risk of getting cancer. We are seeing how the loss of the telomere tumor suppressor pathway in these families leads to breast cancer, colorectal cancer, melanoma, and thyroid cancers. These cancers would normally have been blocked by telomere shortening. The broad spectrum of cancers in these families shows the power of the telomere tumor suppressor pathway.

How telomeres are regulated is a fundamental problem," de Lange concludes. "And by working on a fundamental problem, we were eventually able to understand the origins of a human disease."

Sources: Eureka Alert, eLife

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
OCT 28, 2020
Cancer
Protecting the Head and Neck from Off Target Radiation
OCT 28, 2020
Protecting the Head and Neck from Off Target Radiation
Radiotherapy alone or with chemotherapy is the go-to treatment for head and neck cancers. Unfortunately, head and neck t ...
NOV 18, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Choosing an NGS workflow: What are you looking for?
NOV 18, 2020
Choosing an NGS workflow: What are you looking for?
  It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of workflows that are available for NGS. How do you choose? While ...
NOV 11, 2020
Cancer
A New CDK Inhibitor Could Help with Unresponsive Liver Cancer
NOV 11, 2020
A New CDK Inhibitor Could Help with Unresponsive Liver Cancer
Amongst the most common targets of anti-cancer drugs are small regulatory molecules called cyclin-dependent kinases (CDK ...
NOV 11, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Visualizing a Tumor Suppressor in Action
NOV 11, 2020
Visualizing a Tumor Suppressor in Action
Many types of cells in our bodies are short-lived and need to be replenished. Cell division has to be carefully controll ...
DEC 14, 2020
Cancer
Fibronectin Could Act as a Biomarker for Early Prognosis of Live Cancer
DEC 14, 2020
Fibronectin Could Act as a Biomarker for Early Prognosis of Live Cancer
Diagnostics is one of the key pillars of modern medicine. Diagnostics allows patients and doctors to identify a problem ...
DEC 31, 2020
Cancer
Does inflammation make ADT symptoms worse?
DEC 31, 2020
Does inflammation make ADT symptoms worse?
A new study published in the journal Cancer considers the impact of inflammation on prostate cancer patients underg ...
Loading Comments...