Telomerase- and alternative telomere lengthening-independent telomere stabilization in a metastasis-derived human non-small cell lung cancer cell line: effect of ectopic hTERT.Cancer Res. 2006 Apr 01; 66(7):3584-92.CR
In the majority of human malignancies, maintenance of telomeres is achieved by reactivation of telomerase, whereas a smaller fraction uses an alternative telomere lengthening (ALT) mechanism. Here, we used 16 non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cell lines to investigate telomere stabilization mechanisms and their effect on tumor aggressiveness. Three of 16 NSCLC cell lines (VL-9, SK-LU-1, and VL-7) lacked telomerase activity, correlating with significantly reduced tumorigenicity in vitro and in vivo. Of the three telomerase-negative cell lines, only SK-LU-1 displayed characteristics of an ALT mechanism (i.e., highly heterogeneous telomeres and ALT-associated promyelocytic leukemia bodies). VL-9 cells gained telomerase during in vitro propagation, indicating incomplete immortalization in vivo. In contrast, NSCLC metastasis-derived VL-7 cells remained telomerase and ALT negative up to high passage numbers and following transplantation in severe combined immunodeficient mice. Telomeres of VL-7 cells were homogeneously short, and chromosomal instability (CIN) was comparable with most telomerase-positive cell lines. This indicates the presence of an efficient telomere stabilization mechanism different from telomerase and ALT in VL-7 cells. To test the effect of ectopic telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT) in these unique ALT- and telomerase-negative tumor backgrounds, hTERT was transfected into VL-7 cells. The activation of telomerase led to an excessively rapid gain of telomeric sequences resulting in very long (approximately 14 kb), uniform telomeres. Additionally, hTERT expression induced a more aggressive growth behavior in vitro and in vivo without altering the level of CIN. These data provide further evidence for a direct oncogenic activity of hTERT not based on the inhibition of CIN.