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Telomerase Regulation: A Role for Epigenetics

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Telomerase was first described by Greider and Blackburn in 1984, a discovery ultimately recognized by the Nobel Prize committee in 2009. The three decades following on from its discovery have been accompanied by an increased understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of telomerase activity, and its role in telomere biology. Telomerase has a clearly defined role in telomere length maintenance and an established influence on DNA replication, differentiation, survival, development, apoptosis, tumorigenesis, and a further role in therapeutic resistance in human stem and cancer cells including those of breast and cervical origin. TERT encodes the catalytic subunit and rate-limiting factor for telomerase enzyme activity. The mechanisms of activation or silencing of TERT remain open to debate across somatic, cancer, and stem cells. Promoter mutations upstream of TERT may promote dysregulated telomerase activation in tumour cells but additional factors including epigenetic, transcriptional and posttranscriptional modifications also have a role to play. Previous systematic analysis indicated methylation and mutation of the TERT promoter in 53% and 31%, respectively, of TERT expressing cancer cell lines supporting the concept of a key role for epigenetic alteration associated with TERT dysregulation and cellular transformation. Epigenetic regulators including DNA methylation, histone modification, and non-coding RNAs are now emerging as drivers in the regulation of telomeres and telomerase activity. Epigenetic regulation may be responsible for reversible silencing of TERT in several biological processes including development and differentiation, and increased TERT expression in cancers. Understanding the epigenetic mechanisms behind telomerase regulation holds important prospects for cancer treatment, diagnosis and prognosis. This review will focus on the role of epigenetics in telomerase regulation.

Acceptance Date Mar 7, 2021
Publication Date Mar 10, 2021
Journal Cancers (Basel)
Print ISSN 2072-6694
Publisher MDPI
Keywords TERT, cancer, epigenetics, methylation, promoter, telomerase
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