The many faces of telomerase: emerging extratelomeric effects



Telomeres, the ends of chromosomes, shorten with each cell division. To expand their replicative potential, various cell types use the ribonucleoprotein telomerase, which lengthens telomeres by its reverse transcriptase activity. Because of its ability to immortalize cancer cells, telomerase also plays a significant role in tumor growth. However, in recent years, a wide variety of non-canonical effects of telomerase that are independent of telomere lengthening have been discovered, and even the notion that telomerase is restricted to very few cell types has been questioned. These effects also seem to be important in carcinogenesis and might explain the tumor-promoting effects of telomerase independently of telomere elongation. Here, the current understanding of the extratelomeric roles of telomerase and their physiological and pathological significance is reviewed. BioEssays 30:728–732, 2008. © 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.