Erosion of telomeric 3′-overhangs in white blood cells of aged subjects with high frequency of very short telomeres

Stefano Mattarocci, Ettore D'Ambrosio, Laura Tafaro, Valentina Somma, Giuseppa Zannino, Vincenzo Marigliano, Fiorentina Ascenzioni, Graziella Cimino-Reale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


After extended proliferation, cells enter a state of replicative quiescence that is probably due to progressive telomere shortening. It is supposed that changes in telomere structure eventually expose the chromosome ends to undesired recombination events and thus promote cell senescence. The telomeric 3′-overhang is crucial for efficient chromosome capping, but its specific role in telomere shortening and in triggering the senescence program is uncertain. We have addressed this issue by measuring the 3′-overhangs of a human tissue cells aging in vivo. The 3'-overhangs were analyzed in blood samples from 41 individuals aged 91-106 years and 89 individuals ranging from 6 months to 85 years. We found that the overall 3′-overhang length did not significantly change with age, but did, however, find extensively eroded 3'-overhangs in 3 subjects of the 91-106 years cohort and one 61 years old subject affected with Down syndrome. These subjects had 3′-overhang length distributions skewed towards shorter tails, the shortest overall telomere lengths and the highest frequencies of very short telomeres. These data raise the possibility that during ageing very short telomeres with very poor 3′-overhangs can reach a critical point for functional telomeres.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-32
Number of pages6
JournalMechanisms of Ageing and Development
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2011


  • Aging
  • Cell senescence
  • Telomeres
  • Telomeric 3′-overhang

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ageing
  • Developmental Biology


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