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Non-canonical Functions of Telomerase Reverse Transcriptase: Emerging Roles and Biological Relevance

[ Vol. 20 , Issue. 6 ]


Connor A.H. Thompson and Judy M.Y. Wong*   Pages 498 - 507 ( 10 )


Increasing evidence from research on telomerase suggests that in addition to its catalytic telomere repeat synthesis activity, telomerase may have other biologically important functions. The canonical roles of telomerase are at the telomere ends where they elongate telomeres and maintain genomic stability and cellular lifespan. The catalytic protein component Telomerase Reverse Transcriptase (TERT) is preferentially expressed at high levels in cancer cells despite the existence of an alternative mechanism for telomere maintenance (alternative lengthening of telomeres or ALT). TERT is also expressed at higher levels than necessary for maintaining functional telomere length, suggesting other possible adaptive functions. Emerging non-canonical roles of TERT include regulation of non-telomeric DNA damage responses, promotion of cell growth and proliferation, acceleration of cell cycle kinetics, and control of mitochondrial integrity following oxidative stress. Non-canonical activities of TERT primarily show cellular protective effects, and nuclear TERT has been shown to protect against cell death following double-stranded DNA damage, independent of its role in telomere length maintenance. TERT has been suggested to act as a chromatin modulator and participate in the transcriptional regulation of gene expression. TERT has also been reported to regulate transcript levels through an RNA-dependent RNA Polymerase (RdRP) activity and produce siRNAs in a Dicer-dependent manner. At the mitochondria, TERT is suggested to protect against oxidative stress-induced mtDNA damage and promote mitochondrial integrity. These extra-telomeric functions of TERT may be advantageous in the context of increased proliferation and metabolic stress often found in rapidly-dividing cancer cells. Understanding the spectrum of non-canonical functions of telomerase may have important implications for the rational design of anti-cancer chemotherapeutic drugs.


Telomerase reverse, Transcriptase (TERT), Telomere, Mitochondrion, Nontelomeric roles, DNA.


Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, V6T 1Z3, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, V6T 1Z3

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