Telomere dysfunction and aberrant telomerase expression play important roles in tumorigenesis. In thyroid tumors, three possibly inhibitory splice variants of the active full-length isoform of human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT) may be expressed. These variants might regulate telomerase activity and telomere length because it is the fraction of the full-length isoform, rather than the total transcript level, that correlates with enzymatic activity. Telomerase reactivation may be critical in the early stages of tumorigenesis, when progressive telomere shortening may be limiting cell viability. The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between telomere length and hTERT splice variant expression patterns in benign and well-differentiated malignant thyroid tumors. Telomere lengths of 61 thyroid tumors were examined by fluorescence in situ hybridization, comparing tumors with adjacent normal thyroid tissue on the same slide. Expression patterns of hTERT splice variants were evaluated by quantitative and nested RT-PCR. Telomere length was inversely correlated with percentage of full-length hTERT expression rather than with total hTERT expression levels. Short telomeres and high fractions of full-length hTERT transcripts were associated with follicular and papillary thyroid carcinomas, whereas long telomeres and low levels of full-length hTERT were associated with benign thyroid nodules. Intermediate levels of full-length hTERT and telomere length were found in follicular variant of papillary thyroid carcinomas and follicular adenomas.
Copyright © 2011 American Society for Investigative Pathology. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.