Telomere homeostasis regulates both chromosomal stability and cell replicative lifespan in mammalian cells. As a consequence, alterations in telomere biology play critical roles in the pathogenesis of human cancer and may contribute to aging. Indeed, studies in both human and animal models indicate that telomeres and telomerase, the reverse transcriptase that maintains telomere structure, serve dual roles in oncogenesis, acting both to suppress and facilitate neoplastic transformation. Moreover, mutations of telomerase components required for catalytic activity, TERT and TERC, are found in diseases characterized by stem cell failure including dyskeratosis congenita, subsets of aplastic anemia and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Taken together, these telomerase plays a key role in maintaining telomeres, accumulating evidence suggests that the catalytic observations implicate telomerase as a critical link between cancer and aging. Although it is clear that subunit of TERT contributes to both normal and malignant cell physiology beyond its role in telomere maintenance. Specifically, expression of TERT drives tumor formation under situations when telomere length is not limiting and alters stem cell function in a manner that is independent of the expression of TERC. In prior work, we found that TERT is expressed in cycling primary pre-senescent human fibroblasts and that this low-level expression of telomerase controls proliferative lifespan. During the past funding period, we have investigated the role of TERT in both normal and malignant mammalian cells and found that in addition to its role in telomere maintenance, TERT regulates overall chromatin structure. Moreover, we and others have identified several novel protein complexes that associate with TERT. In recent work, we have found that TERT interacts with the RNA component of mitochondrial RNA processing endoribonuclease (RMRP), a gene that is mutated in the inherited pleiotropic syndrome Cartilage-Hair Hypoplasia. TERT and RMRP form an RNA dependent RNA polymerase (RdRP). These new observations suggest that TERT forms several distinct enzymatic complexes and provide a foundation to understand extra-telomeric functions of TERT. This proposal focuses on investigating the role of these newly identified TERT complexes in senescence and cancer. Specifically, biochemical, genetic and molecular biological approaches will be applied to investigate the role of the TERT-RMRP RdRP in chromatin homeostasis, senescence and transformation, to understand the roles of TERT-RMRP complexes in normal cells and tissues and to elucidate the function of TERT protein complexes in the regulation of senescence. These studies will not only provide new insights into the roles of various TERT complexes in aging and cancer but will also enhance our understanding of heterochromatin regulation. In addition, these studies will provide a foundation for strategies to manipulate these complexes therapeutically.

Public Health Relevance

Although it is clear that telomeres and telomerase play important roles in aging and cancer, we lack a complete understanding of the roles of telomerase components in senescence and transformation. This proposal focuses on deciphering the role of newly identified TERT complexes in both normal and malignant cells and tissues. These biochemical, cell and animal- based studies will not only provide insight into the biology of TERT complexes but will serve as a foundation for translational studies for the development of novel therapeutic agents.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-BDA-C (02))
Program Officer
Velazquez, Jose M
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
United States
Zip Code
Lovejoy, Courtney A; Li, Wendi; Reisenweber, Steven et al. (2012) Loss of ATRX, genome instability, and an altered DNA damage response are hallmarks of the alternative lengthening of telomeres pathway. PLoS Genet 8:e1002772
Nguyen, Christine L; Possemato, Richard; Bauerlein, Erica L et al. (2012) Nek4 regulates entry into replicative senescence and the response to DNA damage in human fibroblasts. Mol Cell Biol 32:3963-77
Di Micco, Raffaella; Sulli, Gabriele; Dobreva, Miryana et al. (2011) Interplay between oncogene-induced DNA damage response and heterochromatin in senescence and cancer. Nat Cell Biol 13:292-302
Rosenbluh, Joseph; Nijhawan, Deepak; Chen, Zhao et al. (2011) RMRP is a non-coding RNA essential for early murine development. PLoS One 6:e26270
Okamoto, Naoko; Yasukawa, Mami; Nguyen, Christine et al. (2011) Maintenance of tumor initiating cells of defined genetic composition by nucleostemin. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 108:20388-93
Maida, Yoshiko; Yasukawa, Mami; Furuuchi, Miho et al. (2009) An RNA-dependent RNA polymerase formed by TERT and the RMRP RNA. Nature 461:230-5
Cichowski, Karen; Hahn, William C (2008) Unexpected pieces to the senescence puzzle. Cell 133:958-61
Possemato, Richard; Timmons, Jamie C; Bauerlein, Erica L et al. (2008) Suppression of hPOT1 in diploid human cells results in an hTERT-dependent alteration of telomere length dynamics. Mol Cancer Res 6:1582-93
Lee, J; Sung, Y H; Cheong, C et al. (2008) TERT promotes cellular and organismal survival independently of telomerase activity. Oncogene 27:3754-60
Nieto, Maria; Finn, Stephen; Loda, Massimo et al. (2007) Prostate cancer: Re-focusing on androgen receptor signaling. Int J Biochem Cell Biol 39:1562-8

Showing the most recent 10 out of 15 publications