New, noninvasive methods for the early detection of urothelial carcinomas of the urinary bladder are needed for the diagnosis, follow-up, and screening of patients with bladder cancer. Detection of the enzyme telomerase in urine could offer these new diagnostic possibilities. The standard technique for detecting telomerase activity is the telomeric repeat amplification protocol (TRAP assay). Because of the instability of the ribonucleoprotein telomerase in an aggressive medium, such as urine, investigations conducted to date have yielded nonuniform or even contradictory findings. This study compares the detection of human telomerase RNA (hTR) by reverse transcriptase-PCR (RT-PCR) with detection of telomerase activity by the TRAP assay in the diagnosis of urothelial carcinoma of the urinary bladder. Sedimented cells obtained from urine of 30 patients with urothelial carcinoma, 15 patients with benign urological disorders, 3 patients as part of follow-up for malignant disease, and 20 healthy subjects were examined for the presence of hTR and for telomerase activity (TRAP). In patients with bladder cancer, telomerase activity was detected by the TRAP assay in only 2 of 30 specimens (7%). However, increased levels of hTR were detected by RT-PCR in 25 of the same 30 cases (83%). For patients with benign urological disorders, such as urolithiasis or urinary tract infections, hTR was detected in samples obtained from 4 of 15 patients (27%). Low hTR expression levels were found in 15% of the healthy controls. The detection of hTR by RT-PCR represents a promising new method for detecting malignant cells in urine.

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