hTERT promoter methylation status in peripheral blood leukocytes as a molecular marker of head and neck cancer progression

J Appl Genet. 2018 Nov;59(4):453-461. doi: 10.1007/s13353-018-0458-1. Epub 2018 Aug 7.


Cancer cells, including head and neck cancer cell carcinoma (HNSCC), are characterized by an increased telomerase activity. This enzymatic complex is active in approximately 80-90% of all malignancies, and is regulated by various factors, including methylation status of hTERT gene promoter. hTERT methylation pattern has been thoroughly studied so far. It was proved that hTERT is aberrantly methylated in tumor tissue versus healthy counterparts. However, such effect has not yet been investigated in PBLs (peripheral blood leukocytes) of cancer patients. The aim of this study was to analyze the hTERT gene promoter methylation status in blood leukocytes. DNA was extracted from PBL of 92 patients with histologically diagnosed HNSCC and 53 healthy controls. Methylation status of whole hTERT promoter fragment with independent analysis of each 19 CpG sites was performed using bisulfide conversion technique followed by sequencing of PCR products. Not significant (p = 0.0532) differences in the general frequency of hTERT CpG sites methylation were detected between patients and healthy controls. However, it was discovered that some of analyzed positions (CpG islands: 1 [p = 0.0235], 5 [p = 0.0462], 8 [p = 0.0343]) are significantly more often methylated in HNSCC patients than in controls. The opposite finding was observed in case of CpG position 2 (p = 0.0210). Furthermore, closer analysis of single CpG positions revealed differences in methylation status dependent on anatomical site and TNM classification. To conclude, hTERT promoter methylation status (general or single CpG sites) would be considered as a molecular markers of HNSCC diagnostics.

Keywords: Biomarker; Head and neck cancer; Methylation; Telomerase; hTERT.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Case-Control Studies
  • CpG Islands
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Telomerase / genetics*


  • TERT protein, human
  • Telomerase