Telomere length - inheritance pattern and role as a biomarker
Sammanfattning: Telomeres are repetitive TTAGGG structures ending each chromosome and thereby protecting its integrity. Due to the end-replication problem, telomeres shorten with each cell division. When reaching a critical telomere length (TL), the cells stop dividing and enter replicative senescence. It has been speculated that telomeres might regulate lifespan at the organism level but this hypothesis is controversial. However, telomeres in human blood cells do shorten with increasing age.Telomerase is an enzyme capable of lengthen telomeres. It consists of a catalytic subunit, hTERT, and a RNA template, hTR. Telomerase is active in germ cells, stem cells, activated lymphocytes and highly proliferating epithelial cells while no activity is found in other somatic cells. One step in order to produce a tumour mass is that cancer cells need to have a limitless replicative potential and this can be achieved by activating telomerase. Most tumour cells express telomerase activity and hence, the enzyme is an interesting target for cancer therapy.Telomere length is in part inherited. Two separate family cohorts were investigated to elucidate the inheritance pattern and a strong paternal inheritance was observed. In the larger, multifamily cohort spanning up to four generations, a weak correlation between the TL of the mother and the child was also found, as well as a significant correlation between grandparent-grandchild pairs. Interestingly, the heritable impact diminished with increasing age, indicating than non-heritable factors might influence TL during life.A functional T to C transition polymorphism in the hTERT promoter was previously reported, showing that the -1327C/C genotype was correlated with shorter TL compared to the alternative genotypes in healthy individuals and in coronary artery disease patients. When investigating 226 myocardial infarction patients and 444 controls separately, no differences were observed regarding mean TL or increased attrition rate between the different genotypes.TL in blood cells is shown to be altered in patients with certain types of solid tumours. In our breast cancer cohort, TL was a strong prognostic marker. Short telomeres were associated with increased survival, especially in young patients and in those with advanced tumours. It has been speculated that cancer patients might have a faster telomere attrition rate than controls but this has not been experimentally proven. Two blood samples from the same individual taken with 9-11 years interval was investigated. Some were diagnosed with a malignancy after the second blood draw. When comparing patients with controls, telomere attrition rate was not correlated to future tumour development. About one third of the individuals elongated their telomeres over a decade and the individual telomere attrition rate was telomere length dependent, showing an inverse correlation to TL at a highly significant level. This strongly suggests that the TL maintenance mechanism shown to provide protection for short telomeres in vitro is important also in human cells in vivo.
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