Extended lifespan of Barrett's esophagus epithelium transduced with the human telomerase catalytic subunit: a useful in vitro model.


As there has been no previous information on the consequences of telomerase expression in genetically altered, mortal cells derived from pre-malignant tissue, we sought to determine the effect of hTERT (human catalytic subunit of telomerase reverse transcriptase) transduction of pre-malignant cell strains from Barrett's esophagus that do not contain telomerase activity and possess a finite lifespan. Primary cultures of Barrett's esophageal epithelium transduced with a retrovirus containing hTERT were characterized by growth factor requirements, cytogenetics and flow cytometry. Expression of telomerase lengthened telomeres and greatly extended the lifespan of hTERT transduced (hTERT+) Barrett's esophagus cells. Growth factor dependency of the hTERT+ cultures remained largely similar to the parental cultures, although there was a modest increase in the ability to grow in agar. Chromosomal instability, measured by both karyotypic and FISH (fluorescence in situ hybridization) analyses, was reduced but not abrogated by hTERT transduction, suggesting that telomerase expression can enhance genomic stability. However, the persistence of residual instability gave rise to new clonal and non-clonal genetic variants, and in one hTERT+ culture a new DNA aneuploid population was observed, the only time such a ploidy shift has been seen in Barrett's cell strains in vitro. These in vitro observations are analogous to the clinical progression to aneuploidy that often precedes cancer in Barrett's esophagus, and suggest that reactivation of telomerase may be permissive for continued genetic evolution to cancer. Long-lived Barrett's esophagus epithelial cultures should provide a useful in vitro model for studies of neoplastic evolution and chemopreventive therapies.

  • Feng Z
  • Klingelhutz A
  • Norwood TH
  • Opheim KE
  • Palanca-Wessels MC
  • Paulson TG
  • Rabinovitch PS
  • Reid BJ
PubMed ID
Appears In
Carcinogenesis, 2003, 24 (7)