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LINE-1 induces hTERT and ensures telomere maintenance in tumour cell lines.

Authors: T T. Aschacher, B B. Wolf, F F. Enzmann, P P. Kienzl, B B. Messner, S S. Sampl, M M. Svoboda, D D. Mechtcheriakova, K K. Holzmann, M M. Bergmann
Published: 03/23/2015, Oncogene


A hallmark of cancer cells is an activated telomere maintenance mechanism, which allows prolonged survival of the malignant cells. In more than 80% of tumours, telomeres are elongated by the enzyme telomerase, which adds de novo telomere repeats to the ends of chromosomes. Cancer cells are also characterized by expression of active LINE-1 elements (L1s, long interspersed nuclear elements-1). L1 elements are abundant retrotransposons in the eukaryotic genome that are primarily known for facilitating aberrant recombination. Using L1-knockdown (KD), we show for the first time that L1 is critical for telomere maintenance in telomerase-positive tumour cells. The reduced length of telomeres in the L1-KD-treated cells correlated with an increased rate of telomere dysfunction foci, a reduced expression of shelterin proteins and an increased rate of anaphase bridges. The decreased telomere length was associated with a decreased telomerase activity and decreased telomerase mRNA level; the latter was increased upon L1 overexpression. L1-KD also led to a decrease in mRNA and protein expression of cMyc and KLF-4, two main transcription factors of telomerase and altered mRNA levels of other stem-cell-associated proteins such as CD44 and hMyb, as well as a corresponding reduced growth of spheroids. The KD of KLF-4 or cMyc decreased the level of L1-ORF1 mRNA, suggesting a specific reciprocal regulation with L1. Thus, our findings contribute to the understanding of L1 as a pathogenicity factor in cancer cells. As L1 is only expressed in pathophysiological conditions, L1 now appears to be target in the rational treatment of telomerase-positive cancer.

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