Regulation of human telomerase activity: repression by normal chromosome 3 abolishes nuclear telomerase reverse transcriptase transcripts but does not affect c-Myc activity

A L Ducrest, M Amacker, Y D Mathieu, A P Cuthbert, D A Trott, R F Newbold, M Nabholz, J Lingner
Cancer Research 2001 October 15, 61 (20): 7594-602
Telomerase is required for the complete replication of chromosomal ends. In tumors, the human telomerase reverse transcriptase subunit (hTERT) is up-regulated, thereby removing a critical barrier for unlimited cell proliferation. To understand more about hTERT regulation, we measured hTERT RNA levels by quantitative reverse transcription (RT)-PCR. Telomerase-positive cell lines were found to contain between 0.2 and 6 molecules of spliced hTERT RNA per cell, whereas in telomerase-negative cells, the number of molecules was below the sensitivity of the assay (<0.004 molecules/cell). Intron-containing, immature hTERT RNA was observed only in nuclei of telomerase-positive cells, which suggests that hTERT RNA levels are transcriptionally regulated. Microcell transfer of a normal chromosome 3 into the human breast carcinoma cell line (21NT) abolishes telomerase activity and induces senescence. Endogenous hTERT transcripts were undetectable in the nuclei of 21NT-chromosome 3 hybrids, even in cells permanently expressing a transfected hTERT cDNA. However, chromosome 3 transfer did not affect the expression of green fluorescent protein reporter constructs driven by up to 7.4 kb of noncoding DNA flanking the 5' end of the hTERT gene. Because direct up-regulation of hTERT through c-Myc overexpression had previously been reported, we investigated whether chromosome 3 transfer affected c-Myc activity. An at least 30-fold reduction of immature intron-containing hTERT RNA was observed after the introduction of a normal chromosome 3, but expression levels of c-Myc, Mad1, and other c-Myc target genes were unchanged. Our results suggest that telomerase is regulated primarily at the level of hTERT transcription by complex mechanisms involving regulatory elements distant from the 5' flanking region, and that the putative hTERT repressor on chromosome 3 does not regulate the expression of hTERT through c-Myc or one of its coregulators.

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