L1 retrotransposon expression in circulating tumor cells

PLoS One. 2017 Feb 6;12(2):e0171466. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0171466. eCollection 2017.


Long interspersed nuclear element 1 (LINE-1 or L1) belongs to the non-long terminal repeat (non-LTR) retrotransposon family, which has been implicated in carcinogenesis and disease progression. Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are also known to be involved in cancer progression. The present study aimed to compare the L1 expression between circulating tumor cells and non-cancerous samples. Blood samples were collected from 10 healthy individuals and 22 patients with different types of cancer. The whole blood cells were isolated using enrichment protocols and the DNA and RNA were extracted. RT-qPCR was performed for L1-ORF1 (open reading frame 1) and L1-ORF2, using 18S rRNA as the reference gene. The data were analyzed with the Livak method and statistical analyses were carried out with the Mann-Whitney and Kruskal-Wallis tests. In parallel with the above molecular biology experiments, FISH experiments were performed on the interphase nuclei of the cells for the detection of ORF2 RNA. DNA analysis revealed the presence of both ORF1 and ORF2 in all samples. RNA expression experiments demonstrated that ORF1 was not expressed in all samples, while ORF2 was expressed at varying levels in the non-cancer samples and the samples representing the different cancer types. A significant difference in ORF2 expression was observed between the CTCs and non-cancer samples (p = 0,00043), and significant differences were also observed between normal and lung (p = 0,034), pancreatic (p = 0,022), prostate (p = 0,014), and unknown primary of origin (p = 0,0039) cancer samples. Cytogenetic analysis revealed higher levels of ORF2 in the nuclei of CTCs than in normal samples. This study highlights the significant difference in L1-ORF2 expression between CTCs and normal samples. The increased expression levels observed for CTCs may be correlated with the characteristic features of these cells.

MeSH terms

  • Gene Expression*
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Long Interspersed Nucleotide Elements*
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / metabolism*
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / pathology
  • Open Reading Frames

Grant support

The authors received no specific funding for this work.