Authors: Mendelsohn AR, Larrick JW
Rejuvenation Res. 2015 Oct;18(5)
Reduced telomere length with increasing age in dividing cells has been implicated in contributing to the pathologies of human aging, which include cardiovascular and metabolic disorders, through induction of cellular senescence. Telomere shortening results from the absence of telomerase, an enzyme required to maintain telomere length. Telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT), the protein subunit of telomerase, is expressed only transiently in a subset of adult somatic cells, which include stem cells and smooth muscle cells. A recent report from Xiong and colleagues demonstrates a pivotal role for the transcription co-factor peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ co-activator-1α (PGC-1α) in maintaining TERT expression and preventing vascular senescence and atherosclerosis in mice. Ablation of PGC-1α reduced TERT expression and increased DNA damage and reactive oxygen species (ROS), resulting in shortened telomeres and vascular senescence. In the ApoE(-/-) mouse model of atherosclerosis, forced expression of PGC-1α increased expression of TERT, extended telomeres, and reversed genomic DNA damage, vascular senescence, and the development of atherosclerotic plaques. Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) stimulated expression of PGC-1α and TERT and reversed DNA damage, vascular senescence, and atherosclerosis, similarly to ectopic expression of PGC-1α. ALA stimulated cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) signaling, which in turn activated the cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB), a co-factor for PGC-1α expression. The possibility that ALA might induce TERT to extend telomeres in human cells suggests that ALA may be useful in treating atherosclerosis and other aging-related diseases. However, further investigation is needed to identify whether ALA induces TERT in human cells, which cell types are susceptible, and whether such changes have clinical significance.