TERT Expression in Wilms Tumor Is Regulated by Promoter Mutation or Hypermethylation, WT1, and N-MYC

Cancers (Basel). 2022 Mar 25;14(7):1655. doi: 10.3390/cancers14071655.


Increased TERT mRNA is associated with disease relapse in favorable histology Wilms tumor (WT). This study sought to understand the mechanism of increased TERT expression by determining the association between TERT and WT1 and N-MYC, two proteins important in Wilms tumor pathogenesis that have been shown to regulate TERT expression. Three out of 45 (6.7%) WTs and the corresponding patient-derived xenografts harbored canonical gain-of-function mutations in the TERT promoter. This study identified near ubiquitous hypermethylation of the TERT promoter region in WT compared to normal kidney. WTs with biallelic inactivating mutations in WT1 (7/45, 15.6%) were found to have lower TERT expression by RNA-seq and qRT-PCR and lower telomerase activity determined by the telomerase repeat amplification protocol. Anaplastic histology and increased percentage of blastema were positively correlated with higher TERT expression and telomerase activity. In vitro shRNA knockdown of WT1 resulted in decreased expression of TERT, reduced colony formation, and decreased proliferation of WiT49, an anaplastic WT cell line with wild-type WT1. CRISPR-Cas9-mediated knockout of WT1 resulted in decreased expression of telomere-related gene pathways. However, an inducible Wt1-knockout mouse model showed no relationship between Wt1 knockout and Tert expression in normal murine nephrogenesis, suggesting that WT1 and TERT are coupled in transformed cells but not in normal kidney tissues. N-MYC overexpression resulted in increased TERT promoter activity and TERT transcription. Thus, multiple mechanisms of TERT activation are involved in WT and are associated with anaplastic histology and increased blastema. This study is novel because it identifies potential mechanisms of TERT activation in Wilms tumor that could be of therapeutic interests.

Keywords: MYCN; N-MYC; TERT; WT1; Wilms tumor; anaplasia; blastema; kidney; telomerase.