A study published in the journal Science reports the discovery of a protein, TZAP, which determines telomere length and ultimately dictates the cells lifespan and aging process. Scientists from the Scripps Research Institute (CA, USA) gained an understanding into the mechanism determining telomere length and its effects, and also uncovered a new enzyme involved in binding.
Scientist Eros Lazzerini Denchi (Scripps Research Institute) explains: "Telomeres represent the clock of a cell...you are born with telomeres of a certain length, and every time a cell divides, it loses a little bit of the telomere. Once the telomere is too short, the cell cannot divide anymore." The TZAP protein was demonstrated to control telomere trimming, setting the upper limit of telomere length.
An increase in telomere length may potentially slow the aging process; however, unnaturally long telomeres are a cancer risk factor. Lazzerini Denchi comments: "This cellular clock needs to be finely tuned to allow sufficient cell divisions to develop differentiated tissues and maintain renewable tissues in our body and, at the same time, limit the proliferation of cancerous cells."
The discovery that TZAP can bind telomeres, as well as previously researched proteins telomerase and Shelterin complex, opens up more questions about the association between aging and telomere length. Future research may continue to expose new insights into how scientists can use these proteins to regulate cellular aging.
Sources: Su Zhou Li J, Miralles Fuste J, Simavorian T et al. TZAP: A telomere-associated protein involved in telomere length control. Science, doi 10.1126/science.aah6752 (2017) (Epub ahead of print); www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-01/sri-tsd011117.php