Telomeres, senescence, and hematopoietic stem cells
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- Zimmermann, S. & Martens, U.M. Cell Tissue Res (2008) 331: 79. doi:10.1007/s00441-007-0469-4
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The replicative lifespan of normal somatic cells is restricted by the erosion of telomeres, which are protective caps at the ends of linear chromosomes. The loss of telomeres induces antiproliferative signals that eventually lead to cellular senescence. The enzyme complex telomerase can maintain telomeres, but its expression is confined to highly proliferative cells such as stem cells and tumor cells. The immense regenerative capacity of the hematopoietic system is provided by a distinct type of adult stem cell: hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). Although blood cells have to be produced continuously throughout life, the HSC pool seems not to be spared by aging processes. Indeed, limited expression of telomerase is not sufficient to prevent telomere shortening in these cells, which is thought ultimately to limit their proliferative capacity. In this review, we discuss the relevance of telomere maintenance for the hematopoietic stem cell compartment and consider potential functions of telomerase in this context. We also present possible clinical applications of telomere manipulation in HSCs and new insights affecting the aging of the hematopoietic stem cell pool and replicative exhaustion.