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Mutat Res. 1999 Oct 19;429(2):209-23.

Telomere instability in a human cancer cell line.

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Radiation Oncology Research Laboratory, University of California, San Francisco, MCB 200, 1855 Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA 94103, USA.


Telomere maintenance is essential in immortal cancer cells to compensate for DNA lost from the ends of chromosomes, to prevent chromosome fusion, and to facilitate chromosome segregation. However, the high rate of fusion of chromosomes near telomeres, termed telomere association, in many cancer cell lines has led to the proposal that some cancer cells may not efficiently perform telomere maintenance. Deficient telomere maintenance could play an important role in cancer because telomere associations and nondisjunction have been demonstrated to be mechanisms for genomic instability. To investigate this possibility, we have analyzed the telomeres of the human squamous cell carcinoma cell line SQ-9G, which has telomere associations in approximately 75% of the cells in the population. The absence of detectable telomeric repeat sequences at the sites of these telomere associations suggests that they result from telomere loss. The analysis of telomere length by quantitative in situ hybridization demonstrated that, compared to the human squamous cell carcinoma cell line SCC-61 which has few telomere associations, SQ-9G has more extensive heterogeneity in telomere length and more telomeres without detectable telomeric repeat sequences. The dynamics of the changes in telomere length also demonstrated a higher rate of fluctuation in telomere length, both on individual telomeres and coordinately on all telomeres. These results demonstrate that telomere maintenance can play a role in the genomic instability seen in cancer cells.

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