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Antioxidants 2017, 6(1), 15; doi:10.3390/antiox6010015

Treating Cancer by Targeting Telomeres and Telomerase

Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Medicine at Rockford, University of Illinois, Rockford, IL 61107, USA
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Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Gabriele Saretzki
Received: 2 December 2016 / Revised: 15 February 2017 / Accepted: 16 February 2017 / Published: 19 February 2017
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Role of Telomerase in Aging and Cancer)
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Abstract

Telomerase is expressed in more than 85% of cancer cells. Tumor cells with metastatic potential may have a high telomerase activity, allowing cells to escape from the inhibition of cell proliferation due to shortened telomeres. Human telomerase primarily consists of two main components: hTERT, a catalytic subunit, and hTR, an RNA template whose sequence is complimentary to the telomeric 5′-dTTAGGG-3′ repeat. In humans, telomerase activity is typically restricted to renewing tissues, such as germ cells and stem cells, and is generally absent in normal cells. While hTR is constitutively expressed in most tissue types, hTERT expression levels are low enough that telomere length cannot be maintained, which sets a proliferative lifespan on normal cells. However, in the majority of cancers, telomerase maintains stable telomere length, thereby conferring cell immortality. Levels of hTERT mRNA are directly related to telomerase activity, thereby making it a more suitable therapeutic target than hTR. Recent data suggests that stabilization of telomeric G-quadruplexes may act to indirectly inhibit telomerase action by blocking hTR binding. Telomeric DNA has the propensity to spontaneously form intramolecular G-quadruplexes, four-stranded DNA secondary structures that are stabilized by the stacking of guanine residues in a planar arrangement. The functional roles of telomeric G-quadruplexes are not completely understood, but recent evidence suggests that they can stall the replication fork during DNA synthesis and inhibit telomere replication by preventing telomerase and related proteins from binding to the telomere. Long-term treatment with G-quadruplex stabilizers induces a gradual reduction in the length of the G-rich 3’ end of the telomere without a reduction of the total telomere length, suggesting that telomerase activity is inhibited. However, inhibition of telomerase, either directly or indirectly, has shown only moderate success in cancer patients. Another promising approach of targeting the telomere is the use of guanine-rich oligonucleotides (GROs) homologous to the 3’ telomere overhang sequence (T-oligos). T-oligos, particularly a specific 11-base oligonucleotide (5’-dGTTAGGGTTAG-3’) called T11, have been shown to induce DNA damage responses (DDRs) such as senescence, apoptosis, and cell cycle arrest in numerous cancer cell types with minimal or no cytostatic effects in normal, non-transformed cells. As a result, T-oligos and other GROs are being investigated as prospective anticancer therapeutics. Interestingly, the DDRs induced by T-oligos in cancer cells are similar to the effects seen after progressive telomere degradation in normal cells. The loss of telomeres is an important tumor suppressor mechanism that is commonly absent in transformed malignant cells, and hence, T-oligos have garnered significant interest as a novel strategy to combat cancer. However, little is known about their mechanism of action. In this review, we discuss the current understanding of how T-oligos exert their antiproliferative effects in cancer cells and their role in inhibition of telomerase. We also discuss the current understanding of telomerase in cancer and various therapeutic targets related to the telomeres and telomerase. View Full-Text
Keywords: telomerase; DNA damage responses; G-quadruplex; guanine-rich oligonucleotides (GROs); telomere homolog oligonucleotides (T-oligos); shelterin complex telomerase; DNA damage responses; G-quadruplex; guanine-rich oligonucleotides (GROs); telomere homolog oligonucleotides (T-oligos); shelterin complex
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Ivancich, M.; Schrank, Z.; Wojdyla, L.; Leviskas, B.; Kuckovic, A.; Sanjali, A.; Puri, N. Treating Cancer by Targeting Telomeres and Telomerase. Antioxidants 2017, 6, 15.

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