Telomeres are specialized structures at the ends of chromosomes, consisting of hundreds of repeated hexanucleotides (TTAGGG)n. Genetic integrity is partly maintained by the architecture of telomeres and it is gradually lost as telomeres progressively shorten with each cell replication, due to incomplete lagging DNA strand synthesis and oxidative damage. Telomerase is a reverse transcriptase enzyme that counteracts telomere shortening by adding telomeric repeats to the G-rich strand. It is composed of a telomerase RNA component and a protein component, telomerase reverse transcriptase. In the absence of telomerase or when the activity of the enzyme is low compared to the replicative erosion, apoptosis is triggered. Patients who have inherited genetic defects in telomere maintenance seem to have an increased risk of developing familial benign diseases or malignant diseases. At the somatic level, telomerase is reactivated in the majority of human carcinomas, suggesting that telomerase reactivation is a critical step for cancerogenesis. In sporadic thyroid carcinoma telomerase activity is detectable in nearly 50% of thyroid cancer tissues and some authors proposed that the detection of telomerase activity may be used for differentiating between benign and malignant thyroid tumours. Recently a germline alteration of telomere-telomerase complex has been identified in patients with familial papillary thyroid cancer, characterized by short telomeres and increased expression and activity of telomerase compared to patients with sporadic papillary thyroid cancer. In this report, we will review the role of telomere-telomerase complex in sporadic and familial thyroid cancer.
Keywords: Thyroid cancer, telomeres, hTERT