Telomeres are nucleoprotein structures that protect the ends of human chromosomes through the formation of a ‘cap’, thus preventing exonucleolytic degradation, inter- and intra-chromosomal fusion, and subsequent chromosomal instability. During aging, telomere shortening correlates with tissue dysfunction and loss of renewal capacity. In human cancer, telomere dysfunction is involved in early chromosome instability, long-term cellular proliferation, and possibly other processes related to cell survival and microenvironment. Telomeres constitute an attractive target for the development of novel small-molecule anti-cancer drugs. In particular, individual protein components of the core telomere higher-order chromatin structure (known as the telosome or ‘shelterin’ complex) are promising candidate targets for cancer therapy.

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