Telomerase activity measurement in magnetically captured epithelial cells: comparison of slab-gel and capillary electrophoresis.


We have compared telomerase activity measurements by slab-gel and capillary electrophoresis in cultured cells (A549 and H125 human cancer cell lines) and in cells isolated from clinical peripheral blood specimens epithelial cells of patients with lung and esophageal cancer. Telomerase activity was determined using the telomerase repeat amplification protocol (TRAP) assay with phosphoimager scanning of slab-gels and by laser-induced fluorescence capillary electrophoresis (LIF-CE). Experiments using A549 and H125 cells were performed to determine the reproducibility of each method and to identify the contribution of each stage of the TRAP/polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay to the variability. In these experiments, it was found that more than half of the overall variability (coefficient of variation, CV = 35%) of the slab-gel method and almost all of the overall variability (CV = 20%) of the CE method was due to the PCR stage of the TRAP assay. In the clinical samples, classification as positive or negative was by visual inspection of the slab-gel and CE electropherograms for the presence of the characteristic 6 base-pair TRAP ladder and by GeneScan analysis of the CE. We examined several criteria including the use of 3, 4, or 5 TRAP bands as the definition of a positive test. Using the slab-gel method, the 5-band criterion gave 40% sensitivity with 100% specificity (no false positives in inactive controls). The CE method yielded a comparable 38% sensitivity and 100% specificity using this criterion. These data indicate that detection of telomerase activity in epithelial cells isolated from peripheral blood has a useful level of sensitivity and specificity and may be useful in the detection and monitoring of aerodigestive cancers. However, analysis by slab-gel is cumbersome and the precision is poor (inter-replicate CV = 20%) compared to LIF-CE (CV = 5%). A high-throughput CE-LIF detection platform will be indispensable for validation studies of telomerase activity measurements.

  • Atha DH
  • Hess JL
  • Highsmith WE
  • Xu JF
PubMed ID
Appears In
Electrophoresis, 2004, 25 (12)