Increased telomerase expression has been implicated in the pathogenesis of lung cancer and, since the primary cause of lung cancer is smoking, an association between telomerase reactivation and tobacco smoke has been proposed. In this work an investigation has been performed to assess the relationship between tobacco smoke exposure and telomerase activity (TA) in peripheral blood mononuclear cells of healthy smokers. The methylation status of the catalytic subunit of telomerase hTERT was concurrently investigated to assess the possible association between epigenetic modifications of hTERT and TA. Besides, the association between smoke and telomere length (TL) has been evaluated. Healthy monozygotic twins with discordant smoking habits were selected as study population to minimize inter-individual differences because of demographic characteristics and genetic heterogeneity. Statistically significant higher values of TA and TL were observed in smokers compared to nonsmoker co-twins. The multivariate analysis of data showed, besides smoking habits (P = 0.02), an influence of gender (P = 0.006) and BMI (P = 0.001) on TA and a borderline effect of gender (P = 0.05) on TL. DNA methylation analysis, focused on 100 CpG sites mapping in hTERT, highlighted nine CpG sites differentially methylated in smokers. When co-twins were contrasted, selecting as variables the intra-twin difference in TA and hTERT DNA methylation, a statistically significant inverse correlation (P = 0.003) was observed between TA and DNA methylation at the cg05521538 site. In conclusion, these results indicate an association of tobacco smoke with TA and TL and suggest a possible association between smoke-induced epigenetic effects and TA in healthy smokers. Environ. Mol. Mutagen. 58:551–559, 2017.
- DNA methylation
- telomerase activity
- telomere length
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis