Implications of telomere-independent activities of telomerase reverse transcriptase in human cancer



Telomerase plays a pivotal role in the pathology of cancer by maintaining genome integrity, controlling cell proliferation, and regulating tissue homeostasis. Experimental data from genetically modified mice and human premature aging diseases clearly indicate that intact telomere function is crucial for cell proliferation and survival, whereas dysfunctional telomeres can lead to either cancer or aging pathologies, depending on the integrity of the cellular stress response pathways. The canonical function of telomerase reverse transcriptase is the synthesis of telomeric DNA repeats and the maintenance of telomere length. However, accumulating evidence indicates that telomerase reverse transcriptase may also exert some fundamental biological functions independently of its enzymatic activity in telomere maintenance. More recent studies have demonstrated that telomerase reverse transcriptase can act as a transcriptional modulator in the nucleus and exhibits RNA-dependent RNA polymerase activity in the mitochondria. Telomerase activation may have both telomere-dependent and telomere-independent implications for tumor progression. Many excellent reviews have described critical roles of telomere and telomerase in human cancer; this minireview will focus on the role of telomerase in cancer progression, with a special emphasis on the nontelomeric function of telomerase.