Evaluation of telomere length in human cardiac tissues using cardiac quantitative FISH

Nat Protoc. 2017 Sep;12(9):1855-1870. doi: 10.1038/nprot.2017.082. Epub 2017 Aug 17.


Telomere length has been correlated with various diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. The use of currently available telomere-length measurement techniques is often restricted by the requirement of a large amount of cells (Southern-based techniques) or the lack of information on individual cells or telomeres (PCR-based methods). Although several methods have been used to measure telomere length in tissues as a whole, the assessment of cell-type-specific telomere length provides valuable information on individual cell types. The development of fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) technologies enables the quantification of telomeres in individual chromosomes, but the use of these methods is dependent on the availability of isolated cells, which prevents their use with fixed archival samples. Here we describe an optimized quantitative FISH (Q-FISH) protocol for measuring telomere length that bypasses the previous limitations by avoiding contributions from undesired cell types. We have used this protocol on small paraffin-embedded cardiac-tissue samples. This protocol describes step-by-step procedures for tissue preparation, permeabilization, cardiac-tissue pretreatment and hybridization with a Cy3-labeled telomeric repeat complementing (CCCTAA)3 peptide nucleic acid (PNA) probe coupled with cardiac-specific antibody staining. We also describe how to quantify telomere length by means of the fluorescence intensity and area of each telomere within individual nuclei. This protocol provides comparative cell-type-specific telomere-length measurements in relatively small human cardiac samples and offers an attractive technique to test hypotheses implicating telomere length in various cardiac pathologies. The current protocol (from tissue collection to image procurement) takes ∼28 h along with three overnight incubations. We anticipate that the protocol could be easily adapted for use on different tissue types.

MeSH terms

  • Carbocyanines / chemistry
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Myocardium / chemistry*
  • Peptide Nucleic Acids / chemistry
  • Telomere / chemistry*


  • Carbocyanines
  • Peptide Nucleic Acids
  • cyanine dye 3