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The role of telomeres and telomerase in hematologic malignancies and hematopoietic stem cell transplantation.

Authors: Limengmeng L. Wang, Haowen H. Xiao, Xing X. Zhang, Chong C. Wang, He H. Huang
Published: 08/20/2014, Journal of hematology & oncology


Telomeres are specific nucleoprotein structures at the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes. Telomeres and telomere-associated proteins maintain genome stability by protecting the ends of chromosomes from fusion and degradation. In normal somatic cells, the length of the telomeres gradually becomes shortened with cell division. In tumor cells, the shortening of telomeres length is accelerated under the increased proliferation pressure. However, it will be maintained at an extremely short length as the result of activation of telomerase. Significantly shortened telomeres, activation of telomerase, and altered expression of telomere-associated proteins are common features of various hematologic malignancies and are related with progression or chemotherapy resistance in these diseases. In patients who have received hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT), the telomere length and the telomerase activity of the engrafted donor cells have a significant influence on HSCT outcomes. Transplantation-related factors should be taken into consideration because of their impacts on telomere homeostasis. As activation of telomerase is widespread in tumor cells, it has been employed as a target point in the treatment of neoplastic hematologic disorders. In this review, the characteristics and roles of telomeres and telomerase both in hematologic malignancies and in HSCT will be summarized. The current status of telomerase-targeted therapies utilized in the treatment of hematologic malignancies will also be reviewed.

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