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Longevity Briefs: Novel Pathway for Telomere Maintenance discovered in Immune Cells

Posted on 5 November 2020

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Longevity briefs provides a short summary of a novel research, medicine, or technology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Why is this research important: Telomeres are short protective caps on the end of the DNA stand, designed to prevent damage to coding DNA during cell division. Every time a cell divides the telomere is shortened. Usually human cells can undergo around 50 doublings before the cellular reproductive arrest is triggered putting the cell into a state called senescence. In this state the cell cannot reproduce any further and can begin sending out inflammatory signals. A build-up of these senescent cells is one of the hallmarks of ageing.

Source: Image Credit: Fancy Tapis / Shutterstock

What did the researchers do: A research team led by Dr. Alessio Lanna, based at the Laboratory of Neuroimmune senescence, in Italy, decided to investigate the pathways in which white blood cells can support the telomere maintenance in cells.

Key takeaway(s) from this research: The study uncovered a previously unknown process in which antigen-presenting cells donate telomeres to white blood cells via the extracellular vesicles. This method, named the intercellular telomere transfer program, lengthens the white blood cell telomeres by up to 3000 base pairs, allowing them to avoid cellular senescence and carry on performing immune functions.

The intercellular telomere transfer program. APCs donate telomere vesicles to promote T cell lifespan.
Upon antigen-specific contacts with T cells (1-2), APCs degrade shelterin (3) to donate telomeres (4), which are cleaved by TZAP and then transferred in vesicles at the synapse with T cells (5). Telomere vesicles are devoid of shelterin but retain the Rad51 recombination factor that mediates APC-T cell telomere fusion causing an average lengthening of 3000 base pairs (6). The result is a T cell that escapes senescence within 24 hours of synaptic interactions (7). That T cell will become an antigen-specific memory cell.
Source: Intercellular telomere transfer extends T cell lifespan

This provides a step forward in our understanding of telomere biology, an important piece in the ageing puzzle.

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