Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Over the last 40 years it has become clear that telomeres, the end of the chromosomes, and the enzyme telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT), which is required to counteract their shortening, play a pivotal role in senescence and aging. However, over the last years several studies demonstrated that TERT belongs to the group of dual-targeted proteins. It contains a bipartite nuclear localization signal as well as a mitochondrial targeting sequence and, under physiological conditions, is found in both organelles in several cell types including terminally differentiated, post-mitotic cells. The canonical function of TERT is to prevent telomere erosion and thereby the development of replicative senescence and genetic instability. Besides telomere extension, TERT exhibits other non-telomeric activities such as cell cycle regulation, modulation of cellular signaling and gene expression, augmentation of proliferative lifespan as well as DNA damage responses. Mitochondrial TERT is able to reduce reactive oxygen species, mitochondrial DNA damage and apoptosis. Because of the localization of TERT in the nucleus and in the mitochondria, it must have different functions in the two organelles as mitochondrial DNA does not contain telomeric structures. However, the organelle-specific functions are not completely understood. Strikingly, the regulation by phosphorylation of TERT seems to reveal multiple parallels. This review will summarize the current knowledge about the cellular functions and post-translational regulation of the dual-targeted protein TERT.