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Genetic and epigenetic trends in telomere research: a novel way in immunoepigenetics.

Authors: Dora D. Melicher, Edit I EI. Buzas, Andras A. Falus
Published: 07/20/2015, Cellular and molecular life sciences : CMLS


Telomeres are protective heterochromatic structures that cap the end of linear chromosomes and play a key role in preserving genomic stability. Telomere length represents a balance between processes that shorten telomeres during cell divisions with incomplete DNA replication and the ones that lengthen telomeres by the action of telomerase, an RNA-protein complex with reverse transcriptase activity which adds telomeric repeats to DNA molecule ends. Telomerase activity and telomere length have a crucial role in cellular ageing and in the pathobiology of several human diseases attracting intense research. The last few decades have witnessed remarkable advances in our understanding about telomeres, telomere-associated proteins, and the biogenesis and regulation of the telomerase holoenzyme complex, as well as about telomerase activation and the telomere-independent functions of telomerase. Emerging data have revealed that telomere length can be modified by genetic and epigenetic factors, sex hormones, reactive oxygen species and inflammatory reactions. It has become clear that, in order to find out more about the factors influencing the rate of telomere attrition in vivo, it is crucial to explore both genetic and epigenetic mechanisms. Since the telomere/telomerase assembly is under the control of multiple epigenetic influences, the unique design of twin studies could help disentangle genetic and environmental factors in the functioning of the telomere/telomerase system. It is surprising that the literature on twin studies investigating this topic is rather scarce. This review aims to provide an overview of some important immune response- and epigenetics-related aspects of the telomere/telomerase system demanding more research, while presenting the available twin data published in connection with telomere research so far. By emphasising what we know and what we still do not know in these areas, another purpose of this review is to urge more twin studies in telomere research.

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