Prevalence of the alternative lengthening of telomeres telomere maintenance mechanism in human cancer subtypes.
ABSTRACT: Approximately 10% to 15% of human cancers lack detectable telomerase activity, and a subset of these maintain telomere lengths by the telomerase-independent telomere maintenance mechanism termed alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT). The ALT phenotype, relatively common in subtypes of sarcomas and astrocytomas, has rarely been reported in epithelial malignancies. However, the prevalence of ALT has not been thoroughly assessed across all cancer types. We therefore comprehensively surveyed the ALT phenotype in a broad range of human cancers. In total, two independent sets comprising 6110 primary tumors from 94 different cancer subtypes, 541 benign neoplasms, and 264 normal tissue samples were assessed by combined telomere-specific fluorescence in situ hybridization and immunofluorescence labeling for PML protein. Overall, ALT was observed in 3.73% (228/6110) of all tumor specimens, but was not observed in benign neoplasms or normal tissues. This is the first report of ALT in carcinomas arising from the bladder, cervix, endometrium, esophagus, gallbladder, kidney, liver, and lung. Additionally, this is the first report of ALT in medulloblastomas, oligodendrogliomas, meningiomas, schwannomas, and pediatric glioblastoma multiformes. Previous studies have shown associations between ALT status and prognosis in some tumor types; thus, further studies are warranted to assess the potential prognostic significance and unique biology of ALT-positive tumors. These findings may have therapeutic consequences, because ALT-positive cancers are predicted to be resistant to anti-telomerase therapies.
Project description:Alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT) is a telomerase independent telomere maintenance mechanism that occurs in ?15% of cancers. The potential mechanism of ALT is homology-directed telomere synthesis, but molecular mechanisms of how ALT maintains telomere length in human cancer is poorly understood. Here, we generated TERC (telomerase RNA) gene knockouts in telomerase positive cell lines that resulted in long-term surviving clones acquiring the ALT pathway but at a very low frequency. By comparing these ALT cells with parental telomerase positive cells, we observed that ALT cells possess excessively long telomeric overhangs derived from telomere elongation processes that mostly occur during S phase. ALT cells exhibited preferential elongation of the telomeric lagging strands, whereas telomerase positive cells exhibited similar elongation between leading and lagging strands. We propose that the ALT pathway preferentially occurs at telomeric lagging strands leading to heterogeneous telomere lengths observed in most ALT cancers.
Project description:About 10-15% of all human cancer cells employ a telomerase-independent recombination-based telomere maintenance method, known as alternative lengthening of telomere (ALT), of which the full mechanism remains incompletely understood. While implicated in previous studies as the initiating signals for ALT telomere repair, the prevalence of non-canonical nucleic acid structures in ALT cancers remains unclear. Extending earlier reports, we observe higher levels of DNA/RNA hybrids (R-loops) in ALT-positive (ALT+) compared to telomerase-positive (TERT+) cells. Strikingly, we observe even more pronounced differences for an associated four-stranded nucleic acid structure, G-quadruplex (G4). G4 signals are found at the telomere and are broadly associated with telomere length and accompanied by DNA damage markers. We establish an interdependent relationship between ALT-associated G4s and R-loops and confirm that these two structures can be spatially linked into unique structures, G-loops, at the telomere. Additionally, stabilization of G4s and R-loops cooperatively enhances ALT-activity. However, co-stabilization at higher doses resulted in cytotoxicity in a synergistic manner. Nuclear G4 signals are significantly and reproducibly different between ALT+ and TERT+ low-grade glioma tumours. Together, we present G4 as a novel hallmark of ALT cancers with potential future applications as a convenient biomarker for identifying ALT+ tumours and as therapeutic targets.
Project description:Canonical telomere repeats at chromosome termini can be maintained by a telomerase-independent pathway termed alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT). Human cancers that survive via ALT can exhibit long and heterogeneous telomeres, although many telomerase-negative tumors possess telomeres of normal length. Here, we report that Caenorhabditis elegans telomerase mutants that survived via ALT possessed either long or normal telomere lengths. Most ALT strains displayed end-to-end chromosome fusions, suggesting that critical telomere shortening occurred before or concomitant with ALT. ALT required the 9-1-1 DNA damage response complex and its clamp loader, HPR-17. Deficiency for the POT-2 telomere binding protein promoted ALT in telomerase mutants, overcame the requirement for the 9-1-1 complex in ALT, and promoted ALT with normal telomere lengths. We propose that telomerase-deficient human tumors with normal telomere lengths could represent a mode of ALT that is facilitated by telomere capping protein dysfunction.
Project description:Cancers must maintain their telomeres at lengths sufficient for cell survival. In several cancer subtypes, a recombination-like mechanism termed alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT), is frequently used for telomere length maintenance. Cancers utilizing ALT often have lost functional ATRX, a chromatin remodeling protein, through mutation or deletion, thereby strongly implicating ATRX as an ALT suppressor. Herein, we have generated functional ATRX knockouts in four telomerase-positive, ALT-negative human glioma cell lines: MOG-G-UVW, SF188, U-251 and UW479. After loss of ATRX, two of the four cell lines (U-251 and UW479) show multiple characteristics of ALT-positive cells, including ultrabright telomeric DNA foci, ALT-associated PML bodies, and c-circles. However, telomerase activity and overall telomere length heterogeneity are unaffected after ATRX loss, regardless of cellular context. The two cell lines that showed ALT hallmarks after complete ATRX loss also did so upon ATRX depletion via shRNA-mediated knockdown. These results suggest that other genomic or epigenetic events, in addition to ATRX loss, are necessary for the induction of ALT in human cancer.
Project description:The unlimited proliferation of cancer cells requires a mechanism to prevent telomere shortening. Alternative Lengthening of Telomeres (ALT) is an homologous recombination-mediated mechanism of telomere elongation used in tumors, including osteosarcomas, soft tissue sarcoma subtypes, and glial brain tumors. Mutations in the ATRX/DAXX chromatin remodeling complex have been reported in tumors and cell lines that use the ALT mechanism, suggesting that ATRX may be an ALT repressor. We show here that knockout or knockdown of ATRX in mortal cells or immortal telomerase-positive cells is insufficient to activate ALT. Notably, however, in SV40-transformed mortal fibroblasts ATRX loss results in either a significant increase in the proportion of cell lines activating ALT (instead of telomerase) or in a significant decrease in the time prior to ALT activation. These data indicate that loss of ATRX function cooperates with one or more as-yet unidentified genetic or epigenetic alterations to activate ALT. Moreover, transient ATRX expression in ALT-positive/ATRX-negative cells represses ALT activity. These data provide the first direct, functional evidence that ATRX represses ALT.
Project description:A key hallmark of cancer, unlimited replication, requires cancer cells to evade both replicative senescence and potentially lethal chromosomal instability induced by telomere dysfunction. The majority of cancers overcome these critical barriers by upregulating telomerase, a telomere-specific reverse transcriptase. However, a subset of cancers maintains telomere lengths by the telomerase-independent Alternative Lengthening of Telomeres (ALT) pathway. The presence of ALT is strongly associated with recurrent cancer-specific somatic inactivating mutations in the ATRX-DAXX chromatin-remodeling complex. Here, we generate an ALT-positive adenocarcinoma cell line following functional inactivation of ATRX and telomerase in a telomerase-positive adenocarcinoma cell line. Inactivating mutations in ATRX were introduced using CRISPR-cas9 nickase into two prostate cancer cell lines, LAPC-4 (derived from a lymph node metastasis) and CWR22Rv1 (sourced from a xenograft established from a primary prostate cancer). In LAPC-4, but not CWR22Rv1, abolishing ATRX was sufficient to induce multiple ALT-associated hallmarks, including the presence of ALT-associated promyelocytic leukemia bodies (APB), extrachromosomal telomere C-circles, and dramatic telomere length heterogeneity. However, telomerase activity was still present in these ATRXKO cells. Telomerase activity was subsequently crippled in these LAPC-4 ATRXKO cells by introducing mutations in the TERC locus, the essential RNA component of telomerase. These LAPC-4 ATRXKO TERCmut cells continued to proliferate long-term and retained ALT-associated hallmarks, thereby demonstrating their reliance on the ALT mechanism for telomere maintenance. IMPLICATIONS: These prostate cancer cell line models provide a unique system to explore the distinct molecular alterations that occur upon induction of ALT, and may be useful tools to screen for ALT-specific therapies.
Project description:Alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT) is a telomerase-independent telomere maintenance mechanism that occurs in a subset of cancers. By analyzing telomerase-positive cells and their human TERC knockout-derived ALT human cell lines, we show that ALT cells harbor more fragile telomeres representing telomere replication problems. ALT-associated replication defects trigger mitotic DNA synthesis (MiDAS) at telomeres in a RAD52-dependent, but RAD51-independent, manner. Telomeric MiDAS is a conservative DNA synthesis process, potentially mediated by break-induced replication, similar to type II ALT survivors in <i>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</i> Replication stresses induced by ectopic oncogenic expression of cyclin E, G-quadruplexes, or R-loop formation facilitate the ALT pathway and lead to telomere clustering, a hallmark of ALT cancers. The TIMELESS/TIPIN complex suppresses telomere clustering and telomeric MiDAS, whereas the SMC5/6 complex promotes them. In summary, ALT cells exhibit more telomere replication defects that result in persistent DNA damage responses at telomeres, leading to the engagement of telomeric MiDAS (spontaneous mitotic telomere synthesis) that is triggered by DNA replication stress, a potential driver of genomic duplications in cancer.
Project description:Approximately 10% of cancers overall use alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT) instead of telomerase to prevent telomere shortening, and ALT is especially common in astrocytomas and various types of sarcomas. The hallmarks of ALT in telomerase-negative cancer cells include a unique pattern of telomere length heterogeneity, rapid changes in individual telomere lengths, and the presence of ALT-associated promyelocytic leukemia bodies (APBs) containing telomeric DNA and proteins involved in telomere binding, DNA replication, and recombination. The ALT mechanism appears to involve recombination-mediated DNA replication, but the molecular details are largely unknown. In telomerase-null Saccharomyces cerevisiae, an analogous survivor mechanism is dependent on the RAD50 gene. We demonstrate here that overexpression of Sp100, a constituent of promyelocytic leukemia nuclear bodies, sequestered the MRE11, RAD50, and NBS1 recombination proteins away from APBs. This resulted in repression of the ALT mechanism, as evidenced by progressive telomere shortening at 121 bp per population doubling, a rate within the range found in telomerase-negative normal cells, suppression of rapid telomere length changes, and suppression of APB formation. Spontaneously generated C-terminally truncated Sp100 that did not sequester the MRE11, RAD50, and NBS1 proteins failed to inhibit ALT. These findings identify for the first time proteins that are required for the ALT mechanism.
Project description:To achieve replicative immortality, cancer cells must activate telomere maintenance mechanisms to prevent telomere shortening. ~85% of cancers circumvent telomeric attrition by re-expressing telomerase, while the remaining ~15% of cancers induce alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT), which relies on break-induced replication (BIR) and telomere recombination. Although ALT tumours were first reported over 20 years ago, the mechanism of ALT induction remains unclear and no study to date has described a cell-based model that permits the induction of ALT. Here, we demonstrate that infection with Kaposi's sarcoma herpesvirus (KSHV) induces sustained acquisition of ALT-like features in previously non-ALT cell lines. KSHV-infected cells acquire hallmarks of ALT activity that are also observed in KSHV-associated tumour biopsies. Down-regulating BIR impairs KSHV latency, suggesting that KSHV co-opts ALT for viral functionality. This study uncovers KSHV infection as a means to study telomere maintenance by ALT and reveals features of ALT in KSHV-associated tumours.
Project description:Alternative Lengthening of Telomeres (ALT) is a non-telomerase mechanism of telomere lengthening that occurs in about 10% of cancers overall and is particularly common in astrocytic brain tumors and specific types of sarcomas. Somatic cell hybridization analyses have previously shown that normal telomerase-negative fibroblasts and telomerase-positive immortalized cell lines contain repressors of ALT activity, indicating that activation of ALT results from loss of one or more unidentified repressors. More recently, ATRX or DAXX was shown to be mutated both in tumors with telomere lengths suggestive of ALT activity and in ALT cell lines. Here, an ALT cell line was separately fused to each of four telomerase-positive cell lines, and four or five independent hybrid lines from each fusion were examined for expression of ATRX and DAXX and for telomere lengthening mechanism. The hybrid lines expressed either telomerase or ALT, with the other mechanism being repressed. DAXX was expressed normally in all parental cell lines and in all of the hybrids. ATRX was expressed normally in each of the four telomerase-positive parental cell lines and in every telomerase-positive hybrid line, and was abnormal in the ALT parental cells and in all but one of the ALT hybrids. This correlation between ALT activity and loss of ATRX expression is consistent with ATRX being a repressor of ALT.