Scientists at the Salk Institute have discovered an on-and-off “switch” in aging cells. In a study published September 19 2014, in the journal Genes and Development, scientists at the Salk Institute have discovered that telomerase, even when present, can be turned off.
“Previous studies had suggested that once assembled, telomerase is available whenever it is needed,” says senior author Vicki Lundblad, professor and holder of Salk’s Ralph S. and Becky O’Connor Chair. “We were surprised to discover instead that telomerase has what is in essence an ‘off’ switch, whereby it disassembles.”
Understanding how this “off” switch can be manipulated–thereby slowing down the telomere shortening process–could lead to treatments for diseases of aging (for example, regenerating vital organs later in life).
This study showed that immediately after the full telomerase complex has been assembled, it rapidly disassembles to form an inactive “disassembly” complex, essentially flipping the switch into the “off” position. This disassembly pathway may provide a means of keeping telomerase at exceptionally low levels inside the cell, which can be useful to minimize the cancer risks.