Recent advancements in the structural biology of human telomerase and their implications for improved design of cancer therapeutics

Author: Griffin A Welfer1,2, Bret D Freudenthal1,3,2
1 Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, KS 66160, USA.
2 University of Kansas Cancer Center, Kansas City, KS 66160, USA.
3 Department of Cancer Biology, University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, KS 66160, USA.
Conference/Journal: NAR Cancer
Date published: 2023 Mar 3
Other: Volume ID: 5 , Issue ID: 1 , Pages: zcad010 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1093/narcan/zcad010. , Word Count: 198

Telomerase is a specialized reverse transcriptase that synthesizes telomeric repeats at the ends of linear chromosomes. Telomerase is transiently expressed in germ and stem cells, but nearly all somatic cells silence it after differentiating. However, the vast majority of cancer cells reactivate and constitutively express telomerase to maintain replicative immortality. Because of this, telomerase has remained a promising broad-spectrum chemotherapeutic target for over 30 years. However, various challenges associated with obtaining high-resolution structural data for telomerase have limited the development of rationally designed structure-based therapeutics. Various techniques and model systems have been utilized to advance our understanding of the structural biology of telomerase. In particular, multiple high-resolution cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM) structures published within the past few years have revealed new components of the telomerase complex with near atomic resolution structural models. Additionally, these structures have provided details for how telomerase is recruited to telomeres and its mechanism of telomere synthesis. With these new pieces of evidence, and the promising outlook for future refinements to our current models, the possibility of telomerase specific chemotherapeutics is becoming more tangible than ever. This review summarizes these recent advancements and outlines outstanding questions in the field.

PMID: 36879683 PMCID: PMC9984990 DOI: 10.1093/narcan/zcad010