Use of telomerase to create bioengineered tissues

Jerry W. Shay, Woodring E. Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Telomeres are repetitive DNA (TTAGGG) elements at the ends of chromosomes. Telomerase is a ribonucleoprotein complex that catalyzes the addition of telomeric sequences to the ends of chromosomes. The catalytic protein component of telomerase (hTERT) is expressed only in specific germ line cells, proliferative stem cells of renewal tissues, and cancer cells. The expression of hTERT in normal cells reconstitutes telomerase activity and circumvents the induction of senescence. Telomeres shorten with each cell division, eventually leading to senescence (aging), due to incomplete lagging DNA strand synthesis and end-processing events, and because telomerase activity is not detected in most somatic tissues. There are specific tissues and locations in which replicative senescence likely contributes to the decline in human physiological function with increased age and with chronic illnesses. While expressing hTERT in cells results in the maintenance of telomere length and greatly extended life span, blocking replicative aging systemically would be predicted to increase the potential for tumor formation. However, there are many situations in which the transient rejuvenation of cells could be beneficial. Ectopic expression of hTERT has been shown to immortalize human skin keratinocytes, dermal fibroblasts, muscle satellite (stem), and vascular endothelial, myometrial, retinal-pigmented, and breast epithelial cells. In addition, human bronchial, corneal and skin cells expressing hTERT can be used to form organotypic (3D) cultures (bioengineered tissues) that express differentiation-specific proteins, demonstrating that hTERT by itself does not alter normal physiology. The production of hTERT-engineered tissues offers the possibility of producing tissues to treat a variety of chronic diseases and age-related medical conditions that are due to telomere-based replicative senescence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)479-491
Number of pages13
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
StatePublished - 2005


  • Aging
  • Bioengineered tissue
  • Cell division
  • Cell proliferation
  • Senescence
  • Telomerase
  • Telomeres

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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