A human breast cancer model for the study of telomerase inhibitors based on a new biotinylated-primer extension assay

E. Raymond, D. Sun, E. Izbicka, G. Mangold, E. Silvas, B. Windle, S. Sharma, H. Soda, R. Laurence, K. Davidson, D. D. Von Hoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Telomerase is an RNA-dependent polymerase that synthesizes telomeric DNA (TTAGGG)(n) repeats. The overall goal of our work was to establish human cancer models that can be used to design clinical trials with telomerase inhibitors. The objectives of this study were (1) to set up a human breast cancer system that allows evaluation of the effects of telomerase inhibitors in cultured cells using a non-amplified telomerase assay and (2) to test this system using two drugs (cisplatin and TMPyP4) that affect the telomerase expression in breast cancer cells in culture. We first compared the telomerase activity in a variety of human breast cancer cell lines to that of other tumour types using a new biotinylated-primer extension assay. Our method, based on a non-amplified primer extension assay shows the direct incorporation of 32P-labelled nucleotides induced by telomerase on human telomeric primers. The 32P-dGTP labelled telomerase-extended 5'-biotinylated (TTAGGG)3 primer can subsequently be separated using streptavidin-coated magnetic beads. As compared to other non-amplified method, we showed that this procedure improved the characterization and the quantification of the banding pattern resulting from telomerase extension by reducing the radioactive background. Using this method, we observed that telomerase activity varies markedly in a panel of 39 human cancer cell lines. For example, MCF7 breast cancer cells in culture showed intermediate telomerase activity corresponding to 33.8 ± 3.4% of that of the HeLa cells (reference cell line). Similarly, the telomere length varied with each cell line (average: 6.24 ± 6.16). No correlation between the level of telomerase and telomere length was observed, suggesting that a high processivity is not required to maintain telomeres and that, in some cell lines, another mechanism of telomere elongation can maintain telomere length. From this study, we selected MCF7 and MX1 models that showed reproducible telomerase activity and a relatively limited telomere length for the testing of potential telomere-telomerase interacting agents. Using cisplatin and a new porphyrin-derived compound TMPyP4, we showed that our model was able to detect a down-regulation of the telomerase activity in MCF7 cells in culture and in a human MX1 tumour xenografts. Based on these results, a breast cancer model for evaluating telomerase and telomere interactive agents is proposed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1332-1341
Number of pages10
JournalBritish journal of cancer
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1999


  • Chemotherapy
  • Cisplatin
  • New telomerase assay
  • Porphyrin
  • Telomerase inhibitors
  • Telomere length

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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