, Volume 291, Issue 2-3, pp 81-87

Increase in telomerase activity during progression of melanocytic cells from melanocytic naevi to malignant melanomas

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Abstract During successive cell divisions of mortal cells the length of the telomeres (TTAGGG repeats in vertebrates) at the end of chromosomes decreases. It has been suggested that this process is responsible for cellular senescence. Expression of the ribonucleoprotein telomerase appears to prevent shortening of telomeres in germ-line cells and cancer cells. The purpose of this study was to investigate telomerase activity in melanocytic lesions and its possible role in the multistep tumor progression model of malignant melanoma. To quantify the level of telomerase activity both in cultured cells and in fresh tissue samples the TRAP (telomeric repeat amplification protocol) ELISA was used. Eight cell lines of malignant melanoma, 3 primary cultures of fibroblasts, 36 melanocytic naevi, 5 atypical melanocytic naevi, 3 Spitz’s naevi, 31 primary malignant melanomas and 13 metastases of malignant melanomas were investigated. Also 34 samples of skin (22 samples of perilesional skin and 12 samples of normal skin) were analysed. In our experiments all melanoma cell lines were strongly positive, whereas in fibroblasts telomerase activity could not be detected. Of the primary melanomas and metastatic melanomas, 90.3% and 92.3%, respectively, were strongly positive, and of the atypical melanocytic naevi, 80% were positive. Of the 36 common melanocytic naevi only 10 (27.7%) expressed weak telomerase activity and of the 34 samples of human skin, 4 (11.7%) expressed very weak telomerase activity. Our results indicate that telomerase activity increases from benign melanocytic naevi to atypical naevi and further to malignant melanoma and metastatic melanoma cells, and therefore may play a role in tumour initiation and progression.

Received: 26 June 1998 / Received after revision: 28 October 1998 / Accepted: 2 November 1998