Following a hunch, Meeker and his colleagues took a closer look at the two genes and their specific role in telomere lengthening. With tissue samples from 41 patients with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors collected during the genome mapping project, the scientists found characteristic signatures of alternative telomere lengthening in 25 of them. Fluorescent dyes targeted specifically to telomeres showed "huge aggregates of telomere DNA" in the 25 samples, with each fluorescent spot holding about 100 times more telomere DNA than normal cells, according to Meeker.
Nineteen of the 25 samples that glowed positive for alternative telomere lengthening had either ATRX or DAXX mutations. Six of those 25 samples did not contain ATRX or DAXX mutations, but the tumor cells showed no expression of these two genes. The remaining 16 samples with no alternative lengthening lacked mutations and had adequate ATRX and DAXX expression.
"We saw a 100 percent correlation between abnormalities in ATRX and DAXX and alternative lengthening of telomeres," says Meeker.
Among 439 other samples of tumors tested by Meeker, Papadopoulos and colleagues, ATRX mutations were found in several brain cancer types, including pediatric and adult glioblastoma samples provided by Hai Yan, M.D., Ph.D., and Darell Bigner, M.D., Ph.D., of Duke University.
Meeker and colleagues tested the telomeres status in glioblastoma samples with tissue available for the assay. All eight glioblastoma tissue samples with ATRX mutations showed the characteristic bright glow of their telomeres, indicative of alternative lengthening, and lack of ATRX expression.
Although the Johns Hopkins team does not yet have an explanation for how the genes do their lengthening work in cancer, Meeker speculates that the mutations alter the way that telomere DNA is packaged, exposing those areas to instability.
Papadopoulos' genome mapping studies showed that
|Contact: Vanessa Wasta|
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions