Telomerase reverse transcriptase haploinsufficiency and telomere length in individuals with 5p– syndrome

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Telomerase, which maintains the ends of chromosomes, consists of two core components, the telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) and the telomerase RNA (TERC). Haploinsufficiency for TERC or TERT leads to progressive telomere shortening and autosomal dominant dyskeratosis congenita (DC). The clinical manifestations of autosomal dominant DC are thought to occur when telomeres become critically short, but the rate of telomere shortening in this condition is unknown. Here, we investigated the consequences of de novo TERT gene deletions in a large cohort of individuals with 5p– syndrome. The study group included 41 individuals in which the chromosome deletion resulted in loss of one copy of the TERT gene at 5p15.33. Telomere length in peripheral blood cells from these individuals, although within the normal range, was on average shorter than in normal controls. The shortening was more significant in older individuals suggesting an accelerated age-dependent shortening. In contrast, individuals with autosomal dominant DC due to an inherited TERC gene deletion had very short telomeres, and the telomeres were equally short regardless of the age. Although some individuals with 5p– syndrome showed clinical features that were reminiscent of autosomal dominant DC, these features did not correlate with telomere length, suggesting that these were not caused by critically short telomeres. We conclude that a TERT gene deletion leads to slightly shorter telomeres within one generation. However, our results suggest that several generations of TERT haploinsufficiency are needed to produce the very short telomeres seen in patients with DC.

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