Telomere dynamics in a human cancer cell line

Exp Cell Res. 1999 Feb 25;247(1):29-37. doi: 10.1006/excr.1998.4293.


Telomere maintenance is thought to be essential for immortalization of human cancer cells to compensate for the loss of DNA from the ends of chromosomes and to prevent chromosome fusion. We have investigated telomere dynamics in the telomerase-positive squamous cell carcinoma cell line SCC-61 by marking the ends of chromosomes with integrated plasmid sequences so that changes in the length of individual telomeres could be monitored. Despite having very short telomeres, SCC-61 has a relatively stable genome and few telomere associations. The marked telomeres in different SCC-61 clones have similar mean lengths which show little change with increasing time in culture. Thus, each marked telomere is maintained at a specific length, which we term the equilibrium mean length (EML). The Gaussian distribution in the length of the marked telomeres demonstrates that telomeres continuously fluctuate in length. Consistent with this observation, the mean lengths of the marked telomere in subclones of these cell lines initially differ, but then gradually return to the EML of the original clone with increasing time in culture. The analysis of a clone with two marked telomeres demonstrated that changes in telomere length can occur on each marked telomere independently or coordinately on both telomeres. These results suggest that the short telomeres in many tumor cell lines do not result from an inability to properly maintain telomeres at a specific length.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / chemistry*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / enzymology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics*
  • Chromosomes, Human / enzymology
  • Chromosomes, Human / genetics
  • Clone Cells / chemistry
  • Clone Cells / enzymology
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Telomerase / chemistry
  • Telomere / chemistry*
  • Telomere / enzymology
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Telomerase