Most cancer cells accumulate genomic abnormalities at a remarkably rapid rate, as they are unable to maintain their chromosome structure and number. Excessively short telomeres, a known source of chromosome instability, are observed in early human-cancer lesions. Besides telomere dysfunction, it has been suggested that a transient phase of polyploidization, in most cases tetraploidization, has a causative role in cancer. Proliferation of tetraploids can gradually generate subtetraploid lineages of unstable cells that might fire the carcinogenic process by promoting further aneuploidy and genomic instability. Given the significance of telomere dysfunction and tetraploidy in the early stages of carcinogenesis, we investigated whether there is a connection between these two important promoters of chromosomal instability. We report that human mammary epithelial cells exhibiting progressive telomere dysfunction, in a pRb deficient and wild-type p53 background, fail to complete the cytoplasmatic cell division due to the persistence of chromatin bridges in the midzone. Flow cytometry together with fluorescence in situ hybridization demonstrated an accumulation of binucleated polyploid cells upon serial passaging cells. Restoration of telomere function through hTERT transduction, which lessens the formation of anaphase bridges by recapping the chromosome ends, rescued the polyploid phenotype. Live-cell imaging revealed that these polyploid cells emerged after abortive cytokinesis due to the persistence of anaphase bridges with large intervening chromatin in the cleavage plane. In agreement with a primary role of anaphase bridge intermediates in the polyploidization process, treatment of HMEC-hTERT cells with bleomycin, which produces chromatin bridges through illegimitate repair, resulted in tetraploid binucleated cells. Taken together, we demonstrate that human epithelial cells exhibiting physiological telomere dysfunction engender tetraploid cells through interference of anaphase bridges with the completion of cytokinesis. These observations shed light on the mechanisms operating during the initial stages of human carcinogenesis, as they provide a link between progressive telomere dysfunction and tetraploidy. © 2012 Pampalona et al.