Human sarcomas are mosaic for telomerase-dependent and telomerase-independent telomere maintenance mechanisms: implications for telomere-based therapies

Am J Pathol. 2013 Jan;182(1):41-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ajpath.2012.10.001.


Telomere shortening necessitates that tumor cells activate a telomere maintenance mechanism (TMM) to support immortalization. Although most tumor cells activate expression of the enzyme telomerase, some cells elongate telomeres in a telomerase-independent manner, termed alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT). Previous studies have evaluated the presence of telomerase or ALT mechanisms or both in a variety of tumor types. Our studies also show that TMMs are not mutually exclusive in some tumors. In contrast, our IHC analyses of human sarcomas identified a subset of tumors with some cells containing ALT-associated PML bodies, a hallmark of ALT, and separate cells expressing telomerase in the same tumor. By using a second set of human osteosarcomas, we merged IHC and biochemical analyses to characterize more fully the tumor TMM. The IHC data reveal the presence of both telomerase- and ALT-positive tumor cells in samples that demonstrate characteristics of both telomerase and ALT in biochemical assays. These assays, which measure telomere length and telomerase activity of tumor extracts, are conventionally used to classify tumor TMM. Our results suggest that TMM is not a single or perhaps static characteristic of some tumors and that TMM heterogeneity should be considered in tumor stratification. Furthermore, clinical interest in telomere-based therapies may necessitate accurate characterization of tumor TMM before treatment to maximize therapeutic efficacy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bone Neoplasms / genetics
  • Bone Neoplasms / pathology
  • DNA, Neoplasm / genetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteosarcoma / enzymology
  • Osteosarcoma / genetics
  • Osteosarcoma / pathology
  • Sarcoma / enzymology
  • Sarcoma / genetics*
  • Sarcoma / pathology
  • Telomerase / genetics*
  • Telomerase / metabolism
  • Telomere Homeostasis / genetics*
  • Young Adult


  • DNA, Neoplasm
  • Telomerase