Use of exogenous hTERT to immortalize primary human cells

Kwang M. Lee, Kyung H. Choi, Michel M. Ouellette

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


A major obstacle to the immortalization of primary human cells and the establishment of human cell lines is telomere-controlled senescence. Telomere-controlled senescence is caused by the shortening of telomeres that occurs each time somatic human cells divide. The enzyme telomerase can prevent the erosion of telomeres and block the onset of telomere-controlled senescence, but its expression is restricted to the early stages of embryonic development, and in the adult, to rare cells of the blood, skin and digestive track. However, we and others have shown that the transfer of an exogenous hTERT cDNA, encoding the catalytic subunit of human telomerase, can be used to prevent telomere shortening, overcome telomere-controlled senescence, and immortalize primary human cells. Most importantly, hTERT alone can immortalize cells without causing cancer-associated changes or altering phenotypic properties. Primary human cells that have so far been established by the forced expression of hTERT alone include fibroblasts, retinal pigmented epithelial cells, endothelial cells, oesophageal squamous cells, mammary epithelial cells, keratinocytes, osteoblasts, and Nestin-positive cells of the pancreas. In this article, we discuss the use of hTERT to immortalize of human cells, the properties of hTERT-immortalized cells, and their applications to cancer research and tissue engineering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-38
Number of pages6
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2004


  • Cancer-associated changes
  • Checkpoint
  • Immortalization
  • Oncogene
  • Senescence
  • Telomerase
  • Telomere
  • hTERT
  • hTR

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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