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Evaluation of telomerase in non-melanoma skin cancer

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Telomerase, a ribonucleoprotein, is capable of adding telomeric sequences (TTAGGG hexameric repeats) to the ends of chromosomes and, thereby, halting the erosion of chromosome at each cell division. Whereas most normal somatic cells contain minimal or no detectable telomerase activity, most immortal and tumour cells exhibit significant levels of telomerase activity and show no net loss of telomere length during proliferation. The evaluation of telomerase has been proposed for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes in human cancer. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in humans; the precise molecular events in skin carcinogenesis are numerous and complicated and not yet completely clarified. In this study, we evaluated telomerase in 35 basal cell carcinomas and in 14 squamous cell carcinomas in order to determine if activation of the telomerase enzyme was a pivotal step in the development of skin cancer and whether telomerase activity levels were different between the two histotypes. A higher enzymatic level was shown to be associated with squamous cell carcinomas, while low levels were mainly detected in the basal cell histotype (χ2 test; p=0.02). Telomerase complex activity is dependent on its catalytic subunit, telomerase reverse transcriptase hTERT. By reverse transcription-PCR, using primers within the reverse transcriptase domain of hTERT, we observed a significant correlation between hTERT expression and telomerase activity in our skin tumour samples (p=0.0003). We detected the presence of multiple, alternately spliced transcripts, corresponding to full-length messages as well as spliced messages with critical reverse transcriptase motifs deleted. A higher telomerase messenger level was shown to be associated with squamous cell carcinomas (χ2 test; p<0.0001), as for telomerase activity. Our results provide arguments supporting the role of telomerase in skin cancer and suggest RT-PCR of telomerase RNA as a tool easier and faster than TRAP assay to identify more aggressive malignancies among non-melanoma skin specimens.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Surgery, University of Pisa, 56100 Pisa, Italy

Publication date: May 1, 2003

More about this publication?
  • The International Journal of Molecular Medicine is a monthly, peer-reviewed journal devoted to the publication of high quality studies related to the molecular mechanisms of human disease. The journal welcomes research on all aspects of molecular and clinical research, ranging from biochemistry to immunology, pathology, genetics, human genomics, microbiology, molecular pathogenesis, molecular cardiology, molecular surgery and molecular psychology.

    The International Journal of Molecular Medicine aims to provide an insight for researchers within the community in regard to developing molecular tools and identifying molecular targets for the diagnosis and treatment of a diverse number of human diseases.
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