Switching ageing on/off with Telomerase

Vicki Lundblad and Timothy Tucey of the Salk Institute for biological studies have discovered an ‘on/off switch’ mechanism for telomerase. Telomerase plays a pivotal role in the ageing process of cells. It was thought that simply having an abundance of the enzyme present in a cell would vastly increase the length of a cells life, however, the discovery of this switch adds another element of complexity to this rather simple view. Lundblad and Tucey’s discovery emerged during their study of the yeast Saccharomyces Cerevisea as they noted how a telomerase complex builds itself.

Firstly the telomerase, missing a critical molecular subunit, is on ‘standby’ as a cell begins to replicate itself. Once this part of the process has been completed, the missing subunit rejoins to form a fully functioning telomerase complex. This ‘switches on’ the telomerase which enables it to restore the ends of disintegrating chromosomes. As soon as this process is finished, the telomerase quickly deconstructs itself and ‘switches off’ as it deactivates itself. It is theorized that this ‘switch’ keeps telomerase at incredibly low levels within cells. This has implications not only for the world of regenerative medicine but also for medicine as a whole. The ability to ‘switch off’ telomerase opens a new door for oncologists as it would enable the destruction of cancerous cells by forcing them to die, ridding them of their ‘immortal’ properties. This ‘switch’ could potentially halt and reverse the process of ageing whilst also striking a critical blow to diseases such as cancer. Further investigation into telomerase will no doubt bring about some interesting findings.

Article reference: http://genesdev.cshlp.org/content/early/2014/09/18/gad.246256.114.abstract

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