Tiptoeing to chromosome tips: facts, promises and perils of today's human telomere biology
The past decade has witnessed an explosion of knowledge concerning die structure and function of chromosome terminal structures-telomeres. Today's telomere research has advanced from a pure descriptive approach of DNA and protein components to an elementary understanding of telomere metabolism, and now to promising applications in medicine. These applications include 'passive' ones, among which the use of analysis of telomeres and telomerase (a cellular reverse transcriptase that synthesizes telomeres) for cancer diagnostics is the best known. The 'active' applications involve targeted downregulation or upregulation of telomere synthesis, either to mortalize immortal cancer cells, or to rejuvenate mortal somatic cells and tissues for cellular transplantations, respectively. This article reviews the basic data on structure and function of human telomeres and telomerase, as well as both passive and active applications of human telomere biology.