Exosomal telomerase transcripts reprogram the microRNA transcriptome profile of fibroblasts and partially contribute to CAF formation

Sci Rep. 2022 Sep 30;12(1):16415. doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-20186-8.


It is now well accepted that cancer cells change their microenvironment from normal to tumor-supportive state to provide sustained tumor growth, metastasis and drug resistance. These processes are partially carried out by exosomes, nano-sized vesicles secreted from cells, shuttled from donor to recipient cells containing a cargo of nucleic acids, proteins and lipids. By transferring biologically active molecules, cancer-derived exosomes may transform microenvironmental cells to become tumor supportive. Telomerase activity is regarded as a hallmark of cancer. We have recently shown that the transcript of human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT), is packaged in cancer cells derived- exosomes. Following the engulfment of the hTERT transcript into fibroblasts, it is translated into a fully active enzyme [after assembly with its RNA component (hTERC) subunit]. Telomerase activity in the recipient, otherwise telomerase negative cells, provides them with a survival advantage. Here we show that exosomal telomerase might play a role in modifying normal fibroblasts into cancer associated fibroblasts (CAFs) by upregulating [Formula: see text]SMA and Vimentin, two CAF markers. We also show that telomerase activity changes the transcriptome of microRNA in these fibroblasts. By ectopically expressing microRNA 342, one of the top identified microRNAs, we show that it may mediate the proliferative phenotype that these cells acquire upon taking-up exosomal hTERT, providing them with a survival advantage.

MeSH terms

  • Cancer-Associated Fibroblasts* / metabolism
  • Exosomes* / genetics
  • Exosomes* / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lipids
  • MicroRNAs* / genetics
  • MicroRNAs* / metabolism
  • Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Telomerase* / genetics
  • Telomerase* / metabolism
  • Transcriptome
  • Tumor Microenvironment / genetics
  • Vimentin / metabolism


  • Lipids
  • MIRN342 microRNA, human
  • MicroRNAs
  • Vimentin
  • Telomerase