Human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT) is a key component for synthesis and maintenance of telomeres on chromosome ends and is required for the continued proliferation of cells. Estimation of hTERT expression therefore has broad relevance in oncology and stem cell research. Several splicing variants of hTERT have been described whose regulated expression contributes to the control of telomerase activity. Knowledge of the different hTERT mRNA isoforms and the ability to distinguish between them is an important issue when evaluating telomerase expression.
By establishing cDNA-clone panels from lung and colon tissues, we could map hTERT clones individually for differences in DNA sequence. This made possible the identification of novel alternatively spliced sites as well as analysis of their frequency and mutual correlation in mRNA isoforms. Ten different alternatively spliced sites were detected, of which six were novel sites resulting from alternative splicing of intron 2 or 14. The majority of hTERT cDNA clones from normal and tumour lung and colon tissues encoded truncated proteins ending close after exon 2 or 6.
The increased complexity in telomerase expression revealed here has implications for our understanding of telomerase regulation and for the choice of suitable methods for addressing hTERT expression.