Human papillomavirus can induce a stepwise progression of precursor lesions to carcinoma. Sensitive and specific molecular markers are needed to identify the cervical lesions (CIN) at risk for this progression. hTERT activation could be one indicator of a point of no return in malignant progression. The UT-DEC-1 cell line is an in vitro model for the study of human papillomavirus-induced progression. Using molecular mining, nine potential genes interlinking hTERT and viral oncogene expression with the phenotypical features of CIN2 were identified. After preliminary testing with real-time PCR, five genes were selected for further analysis: hTERT, DKC1, Bcl-2, S100A8, and S100A9. These proteins were also tested in a series of 120 CIN lesions using immunohistochemistry. Analysis of the mRNA expression of these genes at different cell passages revealed three time points with significant changes. hTERT, Bcl-2, and S100A9 were also overexpressed in CIN lesions, and the expression pattern changed during the progression toward CIN3 lesions. These identified time points that were combined with the mRNA overexpression of target genes matched events previously shown to be important in the progression toward malignancy: (a) the viral integration into the cell genome and episome loss; (b) the selection of cells with an acquired growth advantage and ability to maintain telomerase activity; and (c) the final stage of malignancy with permanently upregulated telomerase. hTERT, Bcl-2, and S100A9 together might compose a potential prognostic marker panel for the assessment of CIN lesions. These results, however, need further validation in prospective clinical settings. (c)2010 AACR.
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