Detecting cell-free circulating hTERT mRNA in the plasma may identify a subset of nonsmall cell lung cancer patients

Giuseppe Pelosi, Elisabetta Schianchi, Patrizia Dell'Orto, Giulia Veronesi, Lorenzo Spaggiari, Felice Pasini, Gabriella Sozzi, Elisabeth Brambilla, Claudia Griso, Giuseppe Viale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT), the catalytic subunity of telomerase, a marker of cell immortalization, is upregulated in most tumors, including non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). However, little is known about the role of assessing cell-free plasma circulating hTERT mRNA for tracing these tumors. We investigated by RT polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and real-time quantitative PCR the prevalence and functional implications of hTERT mRNA in both tumor tissue and paired plasma samples in 34 (27 males and 7 females) stages I-IIIB NSCLC patients (21 adenocarcinomas and 13 squamous-cell carcinomas) by using intron- and exon-spanning primers. Plasma samples of ten healthy volunteers and normal lung tissue were used as negative controls. We detected hTERT mRNA in the plasma of 4 out of 34 (12%) tumor patients, but none was detected in the ten plasma samples of healthy volunteers. Normal lung tissue was completely devoid of hTERT mRNA. No association was found between hTERT plasma mRNA and clinicopathologic variables of the patients' population. We conclude that cell-free circulating hTERT mRNA is detectable in a subset of patients, whereas it is consistently absent in healthy volunteers. It can be added to the panel of multiple genetic tracers to detect lung cancer in the plasma of patients, although, per se, it is not specific for this tumor.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-15
Number of pages9
JournalVirchows Archiv
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2006


  • Detection
  • Diagnosis
  • hTERT
  • mRNA
  • Nonsmall cell lung cancer
  • Plasma
  • Real-time PCR
  • Telomerase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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