Am J Pathol 2002 Apr;160(4):1251-7
Department of Pathology, Georgetown UniversityMedical Center, Washington, District of Columbia 20007, USA.
Cervical carcinoma cells display high telomerase activity and usually contain and express integrated copies of the human papillomavirus (HPV) genome. Recent studies have demonstrated that the E6 oncogene of malignancy-associated HPVs increases cellular telomerase activity, predominantly via transcriptional activation of the catalytic subunit of telomerase, hTERT. To examine the relationship between E6 oncoprotein expression and telomerase expression during cellular immortalization, we transduced primary human cervical epithelial cells with the HPV E6/E7 genes and monitored temporal changes in viral oncoprotein expression, cellular hTERT RNA expression, and cellular telomerase activity. Quantitation of the individual E6 and E7 proteins, using a newly developed immunoprecipitation/immunoblotting technique, demonstrated that both oncoproteins were expressed at stable levels during successive passages of cervical cells. In contrast, the levels of hTERT mRNA and telomerase activity increased progressively and dramatically during passaging. Late-passage immortalized cells (passage 30) showed a 25-fold increase in hTERT mRNA and a 300-fold increase in telomerase activity compared to early-passage (passage 4) cells. Thus, neither hTERT mRNA expression nor telomerase activity are directly proportional to the level of E6 oncoprotein, indicating that E6 is not the sole determinant of the high levels of telomerase in cervical cells during immortalization.