Detection of telomerase activity in exfoliated cancer cells in colonic luminal washings and its related clinical implications

K. Yoshida, T. Sugino, S. Goodison, B. F. Warren, D. Nolan, S. Wadsworth, N. J. Mortensen, T. Toge, E. Tahara, D. Tarin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Telomerase is a ribonucleoprotein capable of replacing telomeric DNA sequences that are lost at each cell division. Under normal circumstances, it is active in rapidly dividing embryonic cells and in stem cell populations but not in terminally differentiated somatic cells. Much attention has recently focused on the hypothesis that activity of this enzyme is necessary for cells to become immortal. This predicts that telomerase activity should be detectable in malignant cells and tissues but not in their normal counterparts, which slowly senesce and die. In accordance with this notion, telomerase activity has been reported in a wide range of malignancies, including those of the gastrointestinal tract, breast and lung. In the present study, we used a polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based assay for telomerase activity, designated the 'telomeric repeat amplification protocol (TRAP)', to examine initially 35 colonic carcinomas, their corresponding normal tissues and 12 inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) lesions. We detected strong enzyme activity in 32 (92%) of the 35 colon carcinomas while there was no activity in 30 (86%) of 35 matched normal colonic tissue specimens and only very weak activity in the remainder. Four of seven specimens of ulcerative colitis and two of five Crohn's disease lesions were negative, and the rest were only weakly positive. These results led us to examine whether telomerase could be detected in carcinoma cells exfoliated into the colonic lumen. We assayed lysates of exfoliated cells in luminal washings from colectomy specimens of 15 patients with colon carcinoma and nine with IBD. Telomerase activity was detected in washings from 9 (60%) of the 15 colon carcinoma cases but not in any from cases with IBD, suggesting that it can be a good marker for the detection of colon carcinoma, possibly even in non-invasively obtained samples.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)548-553
Number of pages6
JournalBritish journal of cancer
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1997


  • Colon carcinoma
  • Exfoliated cancer cells
  • Non-invasive detection of cancer
  • Telomerase activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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