ALT Positivity in Human Cancers: Prevalence and Clinical Insights

Cancers (Basel). 2021 May 14;13(10):2384. doi: 10.3390/cancers13102384.


Many exciting advances in cancer-related telomere biology have been made in the past decade. Of these recent advances, great progress has also been made with respect to the Alternative Lengthening of Telomeres (ALT) pathway. Along with a better understanding of the molecular mechanism of this unique telomere maintenance pathway, many studies have also evaluated ALT activity in various cancer subtypes. We first briefly review and assess a variety of commonly used ALT biomarkers. Then, we provide both an update on ALT-positive (ALT+) tumor prevalence as well as a systematic clinical assessment of the presently studied ALT+ malignancies. Additionally, we discuss the pathogenetic alterations in ALT+ cancers, for example, the mutation status of ATRX and DAXX, and their correlations with the activation of the ALT pathway. Finally, we highlight important ALT+ clinical associations within each cancer subtype and subdivisions within, as well as their prognoses. We hope this alternative perspective will allow scientists, clinicians, and drug developers to have greater insight into the ALT cancers so that together, we may develop more efficacious treatments and improved management strategies to meet the urgent needs of cancer patients.

Keywords: ALT biomarkers; ATRX; DAXX; alternative lengthening of telomeres; cancers.

Publication types

  • Review