Luminal and cancer cells in the breast show more rapid telomere shortening than myoepithelial cells and fibroblasts

Hum Pathol. 2008 Nov;39(11):1647-55. doi: 10.1016/j.humpath.2008.04.005. Epub 2008 Jul 24.


Critically shortened, dysfunctional telomeres may play a role in the genetic instabilities commonly found in cancer. We analyzed 30 surgical specimens of invasive breast carcinoma from women aged 34 to 91 years and estimated telomere lengths as telomere-to-centromere ratio values in the 5 different cell types comprising breast tissue in order to clarify telomere length variations within and between individuals using our tissue quantitative fluorescence in situ hybridization method. We obtained 3 novel findings. (1) In corresponding normal tissues, telomere length decreased in the order myoepithelial cells > normal-appearing fibroblasts > luminal epithelial cells, and telomere lengths were characteristic in these 3 cell types within each individual. (2) As expected, cancer cells had significantly shorter telomeres than myoepithelial cells (P < .0001) and normal-appearing fibroblasts (P = .0161), but there was no significant difference in telomere length between luminal cells and cancer cells (P = .6270). (3) Fibroblasts adjacent to cancer had longer telomeres than normal-appearing fibroblasts distant from cancer (P < .0001). This study, which represents the first reported assessment of telomere length variations in the 5 cell types comprising breast tissue within and between individuals, revealed that normal luminal epithelial cells and cancer cells had the shortest telomeres. Our new findings indicate that telomeres of background luminal cells are as short as those of cancer cells. Tissue quantitative fluorescence in situ hybridization, applicable to analysis of individual cells in tissue sections, is considered to be a powerful technique with considerable promise for studies in oncology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Breast / pathology*
  • Breast / ultrastructure
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Epithelial Cells / pathology
  • Epithelial Cells / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Fibroblasts / pathology
  • Fibroblasts / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Middle Aged
  • Telomere / pathology*
  • Telomere / ultrastructure