A Pan-Cancer Study of Somatic TERT Promoter Mutations and Amplification in 30,773 Tumors Profiled by Clinical Genomic Sequencing

J Mol Diagn. 2021 Feb;23(2):253-263. doi: 10.1016/j.jmoldx.2020.11.003. Epub 2020 Dec 5.


TERT gene promoter mutations are known in multiple cancer types. Other TERT alterations remain poorly characterized. Sequencing data from 30,773 tumors analyzed by a hybridization capture next-generation sequencing assay (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Integrated Mutation Profiling of Actionable Cancer Targets) were analyzed for the presence of TERT alterations. Promoter rearrangements (500 bases upstream of the transcriptional start site), hypermethylation (n = 57), and gene expression (n = 155) were evaluated for a subset of cases. Mutually exclusive and recurrent promoter mutations were identified at three hot spots upstream of the transcriptional start site in 11.3% of cases (-124: 74%; -146: 24%; and -138: <2%). Mutually exclusive amplification events were identified in another 2.3% of cases, whereas mutually exclusive rearrangements proximal to the TERT gene were seen in 24 cases. The highest incidence of TERT promoter mutations was seen in cutaneous melanoma (82%), whereas amplification events significantly outnumbered promoter mutations in well-differentiated/dedifferentiated liposarcoma (14.1% versus 2.4%) and adrenocortical carcinoma (13.6% versus 4.5%). Gene expression analysis suggests that the highest levels of gene expression are seen in cases with amplifications and rearrangements. Hypermethylation events upstream of the TERT coding sequence were not mutually exclusive with known pathogenic alterations. Studies aimed at defining the prevalence and prognostic impact of TERT alterations should incorporate other pathogenic TERT alterations as these may impact telomerase function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural