To investigate the regulatory mechanisms of telomerase activity in human melanoma cells, we assessed the enzyme's catalytic activity and the expression of the telomerase subunits, the human telomerase RNA, the human telomerase-associated protein, and the human telomerase reverse transcriptase, in 52 melanoma lesions. Eight normal skin specimens were also studied. Telomerase activity was detected in 84.6% of melanomas, whereas all skin specimens were telomerase negative. Human telomerase-associated protein mRNA and human telomerase RNA were constitutively expressed in all melanoma and skin specimens. Although at a variable level of expression, human telomerase reverse transcriptase mRNA was detected in all but one melanomas, whereas it was never present in skin samples. Reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction experiments were performed using primers within the reverse transcriptase domain of human telomerase reverse transcriptase and revealed the presence of multiple alternatively spliced transcripts in melanoma specimens. Among the 44 telomerase-positive melanomas, one showed the full-length transcript alone whereas in all other specimens a full-length message was present with different combinations of alternatively spliced variants. In these tumors the expression of the full-length transcript was generally equal to or higher than that of the alternatively spliced variants. The ratio full-length transcript to alternatively spliced species ranged from 0.6 to 5.26, with a median value of 1.18. Among the seven telomerase-negative melanomas, one displayed the β deletion transcript alone, whereas in the remaining six tumors weak expression of the full-length transcript and a more abundant level of alternatively spliced transcripts were found. In these cases human telomerase reverse transcriptase ratio ranged from 0.09 to 1.1, with a median value of 0.40. The results suggest that transcription and alternative splicing of human telomerase reverse transcriptase are regulatory mechanisms controlling telomerase activity in melanoma.
- Alternatively spliced human telomerase reverse transcriptase variants
- Telomerase subunits
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