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Haematologica. 2012 Jan;97(1):56-63. doi: 10.3324/haematol.2011.049874. Epub 2011 Sep 20.

Telomere length and telomerase levels delineate subgroups of B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia with different biological characteristics and clinical outcomes.

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  • 1Department of Oncology and Surgical Sciences, Oncology Section, University of Padova,Padova, Italy.



B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia is a clinically heterogeneous disease; some patients rapidly progress and die within a few years of diagnosis, whereas others have a long life expectancy with minimal or no treatment. Telomere length and telomerase levels have been proposed as prognostic factors; however, very few cases have been characterized for both parameters and no study has analyzed the prognostic value of the telomere/telomerase profile.


One hundred and seventy-three cases of chronic lymphocytic leukemia were characterized for telomere lengths and telomerase levels by real-time polymerase chain reaction. Data were correlated with established prognostic markers, IGVH mutational status and chromosomal aberrations, and clinical outcome.


Telomere lengths were inversely correlated with telomerase levels (r(s) = -0.213; P = 0.012), and most of the cases of chronic lymphocytic leukemia with high levels (above median) of telomerase had short (below median) telomeres (P = 0.0001). Telomerase levels were higher and telomeres were shorter in unmutated IGVH cases than in mutated IGVH ones (P<0.0001). Chronic lymphocytic leukemias with 11q, 17p deletion or 12 trisomy had significantly higher levels of telomerase and shorter telomeres than those with no chromosomal aberration or the sole 13q deletion (P < 0.001). Telomere length/telomerase level profiles identified subgroups of patients with different clinical outcomes (P < 0.0001), even within the subsets of chronic lymphocytic leukemia defined by IGVH mutational status or chromosomal aberrations. Short telomere/high telomerase profile was independently associated with more rapid disease progression.


Comprehensive analyses of telomeres, telomerase, chromosomal aberrations, and IGVH mutational status delineate groups of chronic lymphocytic leukemias with distinct biological characteristics and clinical outcomes. The telomere/telomerase profile may be particularly useful in refining the prognosis of chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients with mutated IGVH and no high-risk chromosomal aberrations.

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