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Transl Oncol. 2012 Feb;5(1):56-65. Epub 2012 Feb 1.

Expression of telomeres in astrocytoma WHO grade 2 to 4: TERRA level correlates with telomere length, telomerase activity, and advanced clinical grade.

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Department of Medicine I, Comprehensive Cancer Center, Medical University Vienna, Vienna, Austria.


Cancer cells bypass replicative senescence, the major barrier to tumor progression, by using telomerase or alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT) as telomere maintenance mechanisms (TMMs). Correlation between ALT and patient survival was demonstrated for high-grade astrocytomas. Transcription from subtelomeres produces telomeric repeat-containing RNA (TERRA), a natural inhibitor of telomerase activity (TA). This led us to evaluate correlations of TERRA and TMM with tumor grade and outcome in astrocytoma patients. SYBR Green real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction assays for quantitation of total and chromosome 2p and 18p specific TERRA levels were developed. Tumor samples from 46 patients with astrocytoma grade 2 to 4, tissue controls, and cell lines were assessed. TMMs were evaluated by measuring TA and by detecting long telomeres due to ALT. In glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) grade 4, total TERRA levels were similar to cell lines but 14-, 31-, and 313-fold lower compared with grade 3, grade 2, and nonmalignant tissue, respectively. Total TERRA levels differed from chromosomal levels. Low 2p TERRA levels correlated with dense promoter methylation of subtelomeric CpG islands, indicating that TERRA expression in gliomas may be chromosome specific and epigenetically regulated. Total TERRA levels correlated with diagnosis, with low or absent TA and the presence of ALT, and were tentatively associated with favorable patient prognosis in our cohort (P = .06). TA and short telomeres identified a subset of GBM with a median survival of only 14.8 months. TERRA and TA may be prognostic in astrocytic tumors.

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