Signalling pathways in renal cell carcinoma with a focus on telomerase regulation

University dissertation from Umeå : Umeå University

Abstract: Telomerase is a ribonucleoprotein complex that catalyses telomeric repeat addition at the ends of chromosomes. The catalytic subunit, hTERT, acts as a key determinant for telomerase activity control; the induction of hTERT expression is required for telomerase activity. hTERT participates in cellular immortalization and is elevated in certain malignant tissues. Several tumours exhibit telomerase activity, which contributes to the infinite proliferation capacity that promotes tumour progression.Renal cell carcinoma (RCC) represents 2% of all adult malignancies and has a high mortality rate. The WHO classifies RCC into several sub-types based on cytogenetic aberrations and morphological features; the most prevalent sub-types are clear cell (ccRCC), papillary (pRCC), and chromophobe RCC (chRCC). The aims of this thesis were to study the expression patterns of various signalling molecules, to elucidate the functional links among them, and to define the roles of these signalling molecules in the regulation of hTERT gene expression and telomerase activity in RCC. The first paper included in this thesis revealed mRNA overexpression of DJ-1 (a PTEN inhibitor), cMyc, and hTERT in clinical ccRCC samples compared to tumour-free kidney cortex tissues. Significant, positive correlations were detected for DJ-1, cMyc, and hTERT mRNA levels in ccRCC, but not in pRCC. In vitro knockdown of DJ-1 by siRNA in ccRCC cells induced downregulation of p-Akt, cMyc, hTERT, and telomerase activity. Forced overexpression of DJ-1 in an ovarian carcinoma cell line was followed by increased hTERT promoter activity, which appeared to be dependent on cMYC binding to the promoter. Collectively, the in vitro studies verified a functional link among DJ-1, cMyc, and hTERT as implied in the clinical ccRCC samples. The second paper included in this thesis demonstrated overexpression of NBS1 mRNA levels in ccRCC compared to the kidney cortex. NBS1 mRNA levels exhibited significant, positive correlations with DJ-1, cMyc, and S phase, but not with hTERT. In vitro experiments suggested that DJ-1 could regulate NBS1 gene expression. The role of the hTERT transcriptional repressor WT1 in RCC was evaluated in the third paper included in this thesis. ccRCC samples displayed low WT1 mRNA levels compared to kidney cortex samples. Interestingly, WT1 expression was negatively associated with hTERT and cMyc both of which were elevated in ccRCC. Forced overexpression of WT1 isoforms in a ccRCC cell line increased the expression of several negative transcriptional regulators of hTERT and diminished the expression of hTERT positive regulators. In consequence, hTERT mRNA levels and telomerase activity were reduced. Chromatin immunoprecipitation verified direct binding of WT1 to the cMyc, Smad3, and hTERT promoters. Taken together, these data suggested that in ccRCC, WT1 affects hTERT at the transcriptional level via a combined effect on both positive and negative regulators. In conclusion, DJ-1 can regulate hTERT and telomerase activity through the PI3K pathway encompassing PTEN, NBS1, p-Akt, and cMyc in ccRCC, but not in pRCC. WT1 negatively regulates hTERT and telomerase activity directly and indirectly through multiple pathways in ccRCC.