Maria A Blasco, Telomeres and Telomerase Group, Molecular Oncology Program, Spanish National Cancer Centre, Madrid, Spain. Published online 17 September 2007/ Nature Chemical Biology 2007.38
Telomere shortening occurs concomitant with organismal aging, and it is accelerated in the context of human diseases associated with mutations in telomerase, such as some cases of dyskeratosis congenita, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and aplastic anemia. People with these diseases, as well as Terc-deficient mice, show decreased lifespan coincidental with a premature loss of tissue renewal, which suggests that telomerase is rate-limiting for tissue homeostasis and organismal survival. These findings have gained special relevance as they suggest that telomerase activity and telomere length can directly affect the ability of stem cells to regenerate tissues. If this is true, stem cell dysfunction provoked by telomere shortening may be one of the mechanisms responsible for organismal aging in both humans and mice. Here, we will review the current evidence linking telomere shortening to aging and stem cell dysfunction.