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Cellular senescence implies loss of proliferative and tissue regenerative capability. Also hypoxia, producing Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), can damage cellular components through the oxidation of DNA, proteins and lipids, thus influencing the shortening of telomeres. Since ribonucleoprotein Telomerase (TERT), catalyzing the replication of the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes, promotes cardiac muscle cell proliferation, hypertrophy and survival, here we investigated its role in the events regulating apoptosis occurrence and life span in hearts deriving from young and old rats exposed to hypoxia. TUNEL (terminal-deoxinucleotidyl -transferase- mediated dUTP nick end-labeling) analysis reveals an increased apoptotic cell number in both samples after hypoxia exposure, mainly in the young with respect to the old. TERT expression lowers either in the hypoxic young, either in the old in both experimental conditions, with respect to the normoxic young. These events are paralleled by p53 and HIF-1 ? expression dramatic increase and by p53/ HIF-1 ? co-immunoprecipitation in the hypoxic young, evidencing the young subject as the most stressed by such challenge. These effects could be explained by induction of damage to genomic DNA by ROS that accelerates cell senescence through p53 activation. Moreover, by preventing TERT enzyme down-regulation, cell cycle exit and apoptosis occurrence could be delayed and new possibilities for intervention against cell ageing and hypoxia could be opened.
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