Crossroads of Telomere Biology and Anticancer Drug Discovery

Author: Hiroyuki Seimiya
Author Information:
1 Division of Molecular Biotherapy, Cancer Chemotherapy Center, Japanese Foundation for Cancer Research, Tokyo, Japan.
Conference/Journal: Cancer Sci
Date published: 2020 Jun 24
Other: Special Notes: doi: 10.1111/cas.14540. , Word Count: 224


The telomere is the specialized nucleoprotein complex at the end of the chromosome. Its highly conserved 5'-TTAGGG-3' repeats and shelterin protein complexes form a protective loop structure to maintain the integrity and stability of linear chromosomes. Although human somatic cells gradually shorten telomeres to undergo senescence or crisis, cancer cells activate telomerase or the recombination-based mechanism to maintain telomeres and exhibit immortality. As the most frequent non-coding mutations in cancer, gain-of-function mutations in the promoter region of the telomerase catalytic subunit, TERT, trigger telomerase activation. Promoter methylation and copy number gain are also associated with the enhanced TERT expression. Although telomerase inhibitors were pioneered from telomere-directed therapeutics, their efficacies are limited to cancer with short telomeres and some hematological malignancies. Other therapeutic approaches include a nucleoside analogue incorporated to telomeres and TERT promoter-driven oncolytic adenoviruses. Tankyrase poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase, a positive regulator of telomerase, has been rediscovered as a target for Wnt-driven cancer. Meanwhile, telomeric nucleic acids form a higher-order structure called G-quadruplex (G4). G4s are formed genome-widely and their dynamics affect various events, including replication, transcription and translation. G4-stabilizing compounds (G4 ligands) exert anticancer effects and are in clinical investigations. Collectively, telomere biology has provided clues for deeper understanding of cancer, which expands opportunities to discover innovative anticancer drugs.

Keywords: G-quadruplex; TERT promoter; Wnt/β-catenin signaling; cell immortality; telomere.

PMID: 32579791

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