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Lab Invest. 2002 Jun;82(6):719-28.

Immortalization of human uterine leiomyoma and myometrial cell lines after induction of telomerase activity: molecular and phenotypic characteristics.

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Laboratory of Experimental Pathology, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27709, USA.


In vitro model systems for studying uterine leiomyomas are limited in that human-derived leiomyoma cells grow poorly in culture compared with normal myometrial cells and begin to senesce early, at approximately passage 10 in our studies. To our knowledge, a good in vitro human-derived cell culturing system for leiomyomas does not exist. In an attempt to fill this void, we have immortalized a uterine leiomyoma cell line by inducing telomerase activity, which allows cells to bypass their normal programmed senescence. Telomerase activity was induced by infecting the target (uterine leiomyoma and normal myometrial) cells with a retroviral vector containing hTERT, the gene for the catalytic subunit of telomerase. Subsequent analysis by RT-PCR and the telomeric repeat amplification protocol assay confirmed expression of the inserted gene and induction of telomerase activity in leiomyoma and myometrial cells. Analysis of cells for estrogen receptor-alpha and progesterone receptor proteins by Western blotting showed no change in expression of these proteins between the immortalized and parental leiomyoma and myometrial cells. Both immortalized and parental myometrial and leiomyoma cells expressed the smooth muscle-specific cytoskeletal protein alpha-actin and were negative for mutant p53 protein as evidenced by immunocytochemical staining. The immortalized leiomyoma and myometrial cells showed no anchorage-independent growth, with the exception of a small subpopulation of immortalized leiomyoma cells at a higher passage that did form two to three small colonies (per 50,000 cells) in soft agar. None of the immortalized cells were tumorigenic in nude mice. In conclusion, our data show the successful insertion of the hTERT gene into leiomyoma and myometrial cells and the immortalization of these cell lines without phenotypic alteration from the parental cell types (up to 200 population doublings). These cells should help to advance research in understanding the molecular pathways involved in the conversion of a normal myometrial cell to a leiomyoma cell and the mechanisms responsible for the growth of uterine leiomyomas. Answers to these questions will undoubtedly lead to the development of more effective treatment and intervention regimens for clinical cases of uterine leiomyoma.

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