Frequent somatic TERT promoter mutations in thyroid cancer: higher prevalence in advanced forms of the disease

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Sep;98(9):E1562-6. doi: 10.1210/jc.2013-2383. Epub 2013 Jul 5.


Background: TERT encodes the reverse transcriptase component of telomerase, which adds telomere repeats to chromosome ends, thus enabling cell replication. Telomerase activity is required for cell immortalization. Somatic TERT promoter mutations modifying key transcriptional response elements were recently reported in several cancers, such as melanomas and gliomas.

Objectives: The objectives of the study were: 1) to determine the prevalence of TERT promoter mutations C228T and C250T in different thyroid cancer histological types and cell lines; and 2) to establish the possible association of TERT mutations with mutations of BRAF, RAS, or RET/PTC.

Methods: TERT promoter was PCR-amplified and sequenced in 42 thyroid cancer cell lines and 183 tumors: 80 papillary thyroid cancers (PTCs), 58 poorly differentiated thyroid cancers (PDTCs), 20 anaplastic thyroid cancers (ATCs), and 25 Hurthle cell cancers (HCCs).

Results: TERT promoter mutations were found in 98 of 225 (44%) specimens. TERT promoters C228T and C250T were mutually exclusive. Mutations were present in 18 of 80 PTCs (22.5%), in 40 of 78 (51%) advanced thyroid cancers (ATC + PDTC) (P = 3 × 10(-4) vs PTC), and in widely invasive HCCs (4 of 17), but not in minimally invasive HCCs (0 of 8). TERT promoter mutations were seen more frequently in advanced cancers with BRAF/RAS mutations compared to those that were BRAF/RAS wild-type (ATC + PDTC, 67.3 vs 24.1%; P < 10(-4)), whereas BRAF-mutant PTCs were less likely to have TERT promoter mutations than BRAF wild-type tumors (11.8 vs 50.0%; P = .04).

Conclusions: TERT promoter mutations are highly prevalent in advanced thyroid cancers, particularly those harboring BRAF or RAS mutations, whereas PTCs with BRAF or RAS mutations are most often TERT promoter wild type. Acquisition of a TERT promoter mutation could extend survival of BRAF- or RAS-driven clones and enable accumulation of additional genetic defects leading to disease progression.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Papillary / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Papillary / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Genes, ras / genetics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mutation*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf / genetics
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Telomerase / genetics*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / pathology


  • BRAF protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf
  • TERT protein, human
  • Telomerase