BACKGROUND: Telomerase, which is active early in development and later in stem and germline cells, is also active in the majority of human cancers. One of the known functions of telomerase is to extend the ends of linear chromosomes, countering their gradual shortening at each cell division due to the end replication problem and postreplication processing. Telomerase concentration levels vary between different cell types as well as between different tumors. In addition variable telomerase concentrations will exist in different cells in the same tumor when telomerase inhibitors are used, because of limitations of drug delivery in tissue. Telomerase extends short telomeres more frequently than long telomeres and the relation between the extension frequency and the telomere length is nonlinear.
METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Here, the biological data of the nonlinear telomerase-telomere dynamics is incorporated in a mathematical theory to relate the proliferative potential of a cell to the telomerase concentration in that cell. The main result of the paper is that the proliferative capacity of a cell grows exponentially with the telomerase concentration.
CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: The theory presented here suggests that long term telomerase inhibition in every cancer progenitor or cancer stem cell is needed for successful telomere targeted cancer treatment. This theory also can be used to plan and assess the results of clinical trials targeting telomerase.
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