For the first time, the enzymes which trigger the regulation of telomerase have been identified by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. Telomerase is an enzyme complex which is essential to the maintenance of long, healthy telomeres: if telomeres become too short, it is telomerase which prompts cells to stop dividing and triggers DNA repair proteins to re-build chromosome ends. The two DNA-damage checkpoint enzymes which regulate telomerase are called ATM and ATR.
The study is led by Toru Nakamura, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics. “Our current study found that ATM and ATR help to switch on the telomere complex by chemically modifying a specific target protein bound to telomeric DNA, which then attracts telomerase, much like honey bees are attracted if flowers open and show bright colors,” Nakamura said. While the study was conducted in fission yeast cells, they are very similar to humans in their use of protein complexes to maintain telomeres, and Nakamura believes that a similar molecular trigger may exist in humans to regulate telomerase.
This study proves to be especially important, as the breakdown of telomere maintenance has been shown to lead to the formation of tumors, and understanding how such breakdowns occur may help in finding a cure for cancer.