Telomerase, also called terminal transferase, is a ribonucleoprotein that adds a species-dependent telomere repeat sequence to the 3′ end of telomeres. A telomere is a region of repetitive sequences at each end of a chromosome. Telomeres protect the end of the chromosome from DNA damage or from fusion with neighboring chromosomes.

Telomerase is a reverse transcriptase enzyme that carries its own RNA molecule (e.g., with the sequence 3′-CCCAAUCCC-5′ in Trypanosoma brucei) which is used as a template when it elongates telomeres. Telomerase is active in gametes and most cancer cells, but is normally absent from, or at very low levels in, most somatic cells.


Telomerase restores short bits of DNA known as telomeres, which are otherwise shortened when a cell divides via mitosis.

In normal circumstances, where telomerase is absent, if a cell divides recursively, at some point the progeny reach their Hayflick limit, which is believed to be between 50–70 cell divisions. At the limit the cells become senescent and cell division stops. Telomerase allows each offspring to replace the lost bit of DNA, allowing the cell line to divide without ever reaching the limit. This same unbounded growth is a feature of cancerous growth.

Some experiments have raised questions on whether telomerase can be used as an anti-aging therapy, namely, the fact that mice with elevated levels of telomerase have higher cancer incidence and hence do not live longer. On the other hand, one study showed that activating telomerase in cancer-resistant mice by over-expressing its catalytic subunit extended lifespan.

A study that focused on Ashkenazi Jews found that long-lived subjects inherited a hyperactive version of telomerase.

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Antisense therapy

Turning a gene ‘off’

Antisense therapy is a form of treatment for genetic disorders or infections. When the genetic sequence of a particular gene is known to cause a particular disease, it is sometimes possible to synthesize a strand of nucleic acid (DNA, RNA or a chemical analogue) that will bind to the messenger RNA (mRNA) produced by that gene and inactivate it, effectively turning that gene “off”.

This is because mRNA has to be single stranded for it to be translated. Alternatively, the strand might be targeted to bind a splicing site on pre-mRNA and modify the exon content of an mRNA. Antisense therapies are not gene therapies, and should be considered RNA-based drug discovery, as it has only a few elements in common with gene therapy.

Because nucleases that cleave the phosphodiester linkage in DNA are expressed in almost every cell, unmodified DNA molecules are generally degraded before they reach their targets. Therefore, antisense drug candidate molecules are generally modified during the drug discovery phase of their development.

Intracellular targets

Most targets of antisense are located inside cells, and getting nucleic acids across cell membranes is also difficult. Therefore, most clinical candidates have modified DNA “backbones”, or the nucleobase or sugar moieties of the nucleotides are altered. Additionally, other molecules may be conjugated to antisense molecules in order to improve their ability to target certain cells or to cross barriers like cell membranes or the blood brain barrier.

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