Telomerase is a ribonucleoprotein complex that maintains the stability of chromosome ends and regulates replicative potential. Telomerase is upregulated in over 85% of human tumors, but not in adjacent normal tissues and represents a promising target for anticancer therapy. Most telomerase-based therapies rely on the inhibition of telomerase activity and require extensive telomere shortening before inducing any antiproliferative effect. Disturbances of telomere structure rather than length may be more effective in inducing cell death. Telomerase RNA subunits (hTRs) with mutations in the template region reconstitute active holoenzymes that incorporate mutated telomeric sequences. Here, we analysed the feasibility of an anticancer approach based on the combination of telomere destabilization and conventional chemotherapeutic drugs. We show that a mutant template hTR dictates the synthesis of mutated telomeric repeats in telomerase-positive cancer cells, without significantly affecting their viability and proliferative ability. Nevertheless, the mutant hTR increased sensitivity to anticancer drugs in cells with different initial telomere lengths and mechanisms of telomere maintenance and without requiring overall telomere shortening. This report is the first to show that interfering with telomere structure maintenance in a telomerase-dependent manner may be used to increase the susceptibility of tumor cells to anticancer drugs and may lead to the development of a general therapy for the treatment of human cancers.
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