The exact reason for telomerase's continued activity in cancer cells isn't clear, says Greider. Some have speculated, she says, that whatever sparks cancer's continuous cell division somehow also resurrects programs in cells usually turned on in the making of "immortal" cells such as stem cells. Those programs likely involve telomerase.
"But whatever is going on in the cancer cells to activate telomerase," Greider explains, "our recent experiments have shown that inhibiting it leads to cancer cell death. We hope this new information on basic structure will prompt a flurry of approaches to inhibit the enzyme."
Knowing the basic or secondary structure of a molecule is a bit like knowing the bellows of an accordion is corrugated. You see the general possibilities of how it can work. The next step is learning how that shape can vary how the bellows could expand, contract or twist. This is Greider's next goal: to find telomerase's "tertiary" structure. Then, she says, "we should be able to explain precisely how it works."
The study was funded by a National Institutes of Health grant.
Other researchers on the study are Jiunn-Liang Chen, Ph.D., and Maria A. Blasco Ph.D.
Related Web site: http://telomerase.bs.jhmi.edu/Greiderlab
The study appeared in the March 2000 issue of Cell, vol. 100, pp. 503-514. Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions' news releases are available on an EMBARGOED basis on EurekAlert at http://www.eurekalert.org, Newswise at http://www.newswise.com and from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs' direct e-mail news release service. To enroll, call 410-955-4288 or send e-mail to email@example.com.