We urgently need biochemical markers to detect the malignant nature and pathological states of the human prostate. We report that telomerase activity is associated with prostate cancer but absent in the benign disease and normal gland. Telomerase is, therefore, a potential diagnostic marker for prostate cancer.

Twenty-five human prostates resected at the time of radical prostatectomy were dissected to obtain matched adjacent areas of normal, central zone benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), and pathologically confirmed cancer tissue. These matched tissue samples were assayed for telomerase activity using a sensitive PCR technique. None of the normal tissues exhibited telomerase activity. In contrast, 21 of the 25 (84%) cancers were strongly positive. At the time of prostatectomy, four lymph nodes were positive for metastases and all were strongly positive for telomerase activity. In adjacent BPH tissues taken from the cancerous prostates, only 3 of the 25 tissues (12%) were weakly positive. Telomerase activity was not detected in ten BPH samples recovered from patients who underwent open surgery solely for BPH. All five available cell lines of human prostate cancer (DU145, LNCaP, PC3, PPC1, and TSU) were strongly positive.

Short telomere lengths have been observed in several human cancers. We also measured the telomere lengths in 27 matched samples of normal, BPH, and cancer tissue taken from nine radical prostatectomies. The telomeres from cancer tissue were significantly and consistently shorter than either the adjacent normal or adjacent BPH tissues.

Our results indicate that telomerase activity, as well as telomere lengths, may be markers for distinguishing prostate cancer from normal and benign prostate tissues.


Supported by SPORE Grants CA 58236, DK 2200, DK 19300, and CA 15416.

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