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Exp Cell Res. 1997 Nov 1;236(2):385-96.

Chromosomal instability and telomere length variations during the life span of human fibroblast clones.

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Istituto di Genetica Biochimica ed Evoluzionistica of CNR, Pavia, Italy.


Growth characteristics, karyotype changes, and telomere length variations were analyzed during the life span of 12 anchorage-independent clones isolated from a xeroderma pigmentosum fibroblast strain. After an initial period of comparable active growth, all the clones showed a decline in the growth rate and finally entered a phase of replicative senescence; however, the number of population doublings and the time required to enter senescence varied among the clones. Repeated cytogenetic analyses during culture propagation showed the appearance of chromosome anomalies, mainly telomeric association (tas) and unbalanced translocations. In all the clones the percentage of abnormal mitoses increased with culture passage, but reached different levels (from less than 10% to about 100%). This finding indicates that the replicative block may be associated with differently altered cytogenetic patterns. Specific chromosome arms (5p, 16q, 19q, and 20q) were preferentially involved in tas, suggesting that alterations in chromosome ends may occur which predispose to fusion. In some clones it was possible to demonstrate the origin of marker chromosomes from the evolution of tas. Telomere length analysis by Southern blotting on DNA samples prepared from 7 clones and from the parental cell lines showed that the terminal restriction fragment (TRF) profiles were homogeneous in senescent parental cells and in the clones during the last part of their life in culture, regardless of the degree of karyotype abnormalities. The homogeneity of the TRF profiles supports the hypothesis of a critical telomere length at senescence.

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