Measurement of telomere length is crucial for the study of telomere maintenance and its role in molecular pathophysiology of diseases and in aging. Several methods are used to measure telomere length, the choice of which usually depends on the type and size of sample to be assayed, as well as cost and throughput considerations. The goal of this study was to investigate the factors that may influence the reliability of qPCR-based relative telomere length measurements in whole blood. Day to day intra-individual variability, types of blood anticoagulant, sample storage conditions, processing and site of blood draw were investigated. Two qPCR-based methods to measure telomere length (monoplex vs. multiplex) were also investigated and showed a strong correlation between them. Freezing and thawing of the blood and storage of the blood at 4°C for up to 4 days did not affect telomere length values. Telomere lengths in dried blood spots were significantly higher than both whole blood and peripheral mononuclear blood cells, and were highly correlated with both. We found that telomere length measurements were significantly higher in dried blood spots collected directly from fingertip prick compared to dried blood spots prepared with anticoagulated whole blood collected from the finger, and non-blotted whole blood taken from both finger and arm venipuncture. This suggests that DNA from cells blotted on paper is not equivalent to that collected from venipuncture whole blood, and caution should be taken when comparing between blood sample types.
The current quantitative polymerase chain reaction (QPCR) assay of telomere length measures telomere (T) signals in experimental DNA samples in one set of reaction wells, and single copy gene (S) signals in separate wells, in comparison to a reference DNA, to yield relative T/S ratios that are proportional to average telomere length. Multiplexing this assay is desirable, because variation in the amount of DNA pipetted would no longer contribute to variation in T/S, since T and S would be collected within each reaction, from the same input DNA. Multiplexing also increases throughput and lowers costs, since half as many reactions are needed. Here, we present the first multiplexed QPCR method for telomere length measurement. Remarkably, a single fluorescent DNA-intercalating dye is sufficient in this system, because T signals can be collected in early cycles, before S signals rise above baseline, and S signals can be collected at a temperature that fully melts the telomere product, sending its signal to baseline. The correlation of T/S ratios with Terminal Restriction Fragment (TRF) lengths measured by Southern blot was stronger with this monochrome multiplex QPCR method (R2 = 0.844) than with our original singleplex method (R2 = 0.677). Multiplex T/S results from independent runs on different days were highly reproducible (R2 = 0.91).
Telomere length/DNA content has been measured in epidemiological/clinical settings with the goal of testing a host of hypotheses related to the biology of human aging, but often the conclusions of these studies have been inconsistent. These inconsistencies may stem from various reasons, including the use of different telomere length measurement techniques. Here, we report the first impartial evaluation of measurements of leukocyte telomere length by Southern blot of the terminal restriction fragments and quantitative PCR (qPCR) of telomere DNA content, expressed as the ratio of telomeric product (T)/single copy gene (S) product. Blind measurements on the same samples from 50 donors were performed in two independent laboratories on two different occasions. Both the qPCR and Southern blots displayed highly reproducible results as shown by r values > 0.9 for the correlations between results obtained by either method on two occasions. The inter-assay CV measurement for the qPCR was 6.45%, while that of the Southern blots was 1.74%. The relation between the results generated by Southern blots versus those generated by qPCR deviated from linearity. We discuss the ramifications of these findings with regard to measurements of telomere length/DNA content in epidemiological/clinical circumstances.
Telomeres, the protective cap of chromosomes, have emerged as powerful markers of biological age and life history in model and non-model species. The qPCR method for telomere length estimation is one of the most common methods for telomere length estimation, but has received recent critique for being too error-prone and yielding unreliable results. This critique coincides with an increasing awareness of the potentials and limitations of the qPCR technique in general and the proposal of a general set of guidelines (MIQE) for standardization of experimental, analytical, and reporting steps of qPCR. In order to evaluate the utility of the qPCR method for telomere length estimation in non-model species, we carried out four different qPCR assays directed at humpback whale telomeres, and subsequently performed a rigorous quality control to evaluate the performance of each assay.
Performance differed substantially among assays and only one assay was found useful for telomere length estimation in humpback whales. The most notable factors causing these inter-assay differences were primer design and choice of using singleplex or multiplex assays. Inferred amplification efficiencies differed by up to 40% depending on assay and quantification method, however this variation only affected telomere length estimates in the worst performing assays.
Our results suggest that seemingly well performing qPCR assays may contain biases that will only be detected by extensive quality control. Moreover, we show that the qPCR method for telomere length estimation can be highly precise and accurate, and thus suitable for telomere measurement in non-model species, if effort is devoted to optimization at all experimental and analytical steps. We conclude by highlighting a set of quality controls which may serve for further standardization of the qPCR method for telomere length estimation, and discuss some of the factors that may cause variation in qPCR experiments.
Quantitative PCR; Telomere length; Quality control; Non-model species; Guidelines
We describe development of an absolute multiplex quantitative real-time PCR for detection of Plasmodium spp., P. falciparum and P. vivax targets in order to produce an assay amenable to high throughput but with reduced costs. Important qPCR experimental details and information that is critical to performance and reliability of assay results were investigated. Inhibition studies were performed to test and compare co-purification of PCR inhibitors in samples extracted from whole blood using either the manual or automated methods. To establish the most optimal qPCR reaction volume, volume titration of the reaction master mix was performed starting at 10 µl to 1 µl reaction master mix with 1 µl of template DNA in each reaction. As the reaction volume decreased, qPCR assays became more efficient with 1 µl reaction master mix being the most efficient. For more accurate quantification of parasites in a sample, we developed plasmid DNAs for all the three assay targets for absolute quantification. All of absolute qPCR assays performed with efficiency of more than 94%, R2 values greater than 0.99 and the STDEV of each replicate was <0.167. Linear regression plots generated from absolute qPCR assays were used to estimate the corresponding parasite density from relative qPCR in terms of parasite/µl. One copy of plasmid DNA was established to be equivalent to 0.1 parasite/µl for Plasmodium spp. assay, 0.281 parasites for P. falciparum assay and 0.127 parasite/µl for P. vivax assay. This study demonstrates for the first time use of plasmid DNA in absolute quantification of malaria parasite. The use of plasmid DNA standard in quantification of malaria parasite will be critical as efforts are underway to harmonize molecular assays used in diagnosis of malaria.
Studies examining the association between telomere length and cancer risk have often relied on measurement of telomere length from a single blood draw using a real-time PCR technique. We examined the reliability of telomere length measurement using sequential samples collected over a 9-month period.
Methods and Findings
Relative telomere length in peripheral blood was estimated using a single tube monochrome multiplex quantitative PCR assay in blood DNA samples from 27 non-pregnant adult women (aged 35 to 74 years) collected in 7 visits over a 9-month period. A linear mixed model was used to estimate the components of variance for telomere length measurements attributed to variation among women and variation between time points within women. Mean telomere length measurement at any single visit was not significantly different from the average of 7 visits. Plates had a significant systematic influence on telomere length measurements, although measurements between different plates were highly correlated. After controlling for plate effects, 64% of the remaining variance was estimated to be accounted for by variance due to subject. Variance explained by time of visit within a subject was minor, contributing 5% of the remaining variance.
Our data demonstrate good short-term reliability of telomere length measurement using blood from a single draw. However, the existence of technical variability, particularly plate effects, reinforces the need for technical replicates and balancing of case and control samples across plates.
Skeletal muscle is a major metabolic organ and plays important roles in glucose metabolism, insulin sensitivity, and insulin action. Muscle telomere length reflects the myocyte's exposure to harmful environmental factors. Leukocyte telomere length is considered a marker of muscle telomere length and is used in epidemiologic studies to assess associations with ageing-related diseases where muscle physiology is important. However, the extent to which leucocyte telomere length and muscle telomere length are correlated is unknown, as are their relative correlations with glucose and insulin concentrations. The purpose of this study was to determine the extent of these relationships.
Leucocyte telomere length and muscle telomere length were measured by quantitative real-time PCR in participants from the Malmö Exercise Intervention (MEI; n=27) and the PPP-Botnia studies (n=31). Participants in both studies were free from type 2 diabetes. We assessed the association between leucocyte telomere length, muscle telomere length and metabolic traits using Spearmen correlations and multivariate linear regression. Bland-Altman analysis was used to assess agreement between leucocyte telomere length and muscle telomere length.
In age-, study-, diabetes family history- and sex-adjusted models, leucocyte telomere length and muscle telomere length were positively correlated (r=0.39, 95% CI: 0.15, 0.59). Leucocyte telomere length was inversely associated with 2hr glucose concentrations (r= -0.58, 95% CI: -1.0, -0.16), but there was no correlation between muscle telomere length and 2 hr glucose concentrations (r=0.05, 95% CI: -0.35, 0.46) or between leucocyte telomere length or muscle telomere length with other metabolic traits.
In summary, the current study supports the use of leucocyte telomere length as a proxy for muscle telomere length in epidemiological studies of type 2 diabetes aetiology.
Leukocyte telomere length; muscle telomere length; cardiometabolic; type 2 diabetes; skeletal muscle physiology
Few reports of the utilization of an accurate, cost-effective means for measuring HPV oncogene transcripts have been published. Several papers have reported the use of relative quantitation or more expensive Taqman methods. Here, we report a method of absolute quantitative real-time PCR utilizing SYBR-green fluorescence for the measurement of HPV E7 expression in cervical cytobrush specimens.
The construction of a standard curve based on the serial dilution of an E7-containing plasmid was the key for being able to accurately compare measurements between cervical samples. The assay was highly reproducible with an overall coefficient of variation of 10.4%.
The use of highly reproducible and accurate SYBR-based real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays instead of performing Taqman-type assays allows low-cost, high-throughput analysis of viral mRNA expression. The development of such assays will help in refining the current screening programs for HPV-related carcinomas.
Telomere length plays an important role in chromosomal stability and tumorigenesis, and its measurement in peripheral white blood cell DNA may be a predictor of the development of lung cancer.
Using a new method - monochrome multiplex quantitative PCR -which reduces measurement variability, we compared telomere length relative to standard DNA in white blood cell DNA in 229 incident male lung cancer cases and 229 matched controls within the prospective Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention (ATBC) Study of male smokers.
Median (10th, 90th percentile) telomere length was 1.13 (0.86, 1.45) in cases and 1.08 (0.85, 1.38) in controls (P = 0.038). Telomere length was inversely associated with pack-years of smoking (Spearman correlation r = −0.16, P = 0.02) among controls. Compared to subjects with shorter telomere length (≤ median), subjects with greater telomere length (> median) had a 1.6-fold (95% CI, 1.06–2.36) increased risk of lung cancer. There was a significant linear relationship between quartiles of telomere length and risk of lung cancer (odds ratios (95% confidence intervals) by quartile: 1.00, 0.98 (0.55–1.73), 1.62 (0.95–2.77), and 1.50 (0.84–2.68); Ptrend = 0.05). In addition, subgroup analysis showed that greater telomere length was associated with increased risk of lung cancer among heavy smokers (> 38 years) (OR, 1.90; 95% CI, 1.00–3.59) but not among light smokers (≤ 38 years) (OR, 1.08; 95% CI, 0.56–2.11) (Pinteraction = 0.01).
Our results suggest that greater telomere length may be associated with higher risk of lung cancer among male smokers.
Telomere length; lung cancer; cohort study
Telomeres are specialized chromatin structures essential for maintenance of chromosomal integrity and stability. Abnormal alteration of telomere length has been linked to several cancers; however, epidemiologic evidence regarding the association of telomere length with colorectal cancer risk has been conflicting.
We conducted a nested case-control study to evaluate the association between telomere length and colorectal cancer risk using peripheral blood samples collected prior to cancer diagnosis. The study included 441 women with incident colorectal cancer and 549 matched controls. Monochrome multiplex quantitative PCR was applied to measure relative telomere length. Multiple logistic regressions were used to derive adjusted odds ratios (OR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI) as the measure of association between telomere length and subsequent colorectal cancer risk.
A U-shaped association was observed between telomere length and colorectal cancer risk (test for nonlinearity P = 0.0112). Women with telomere length in the third quintile (40th to 60th percentiles) had the lowest risk of colorectal cancer, and the risks were elevated with a shorter or longer telomere length. This U-shaped association did not statistically differ for colon cancer and rectum cancer.
Conclusions and Impact
Our prospective study revealed a U-shaped association between telomere length in peripheral blood cells and colorectal cancer risk. Our findings provide strong evidence that both very short and very long telomeres are associated with increased risk of colorectal cancer.
Quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) is the gold standard for the quantification of specific nucleic acid sequences. However, a serious concern has been revealed in a recent report: supercoiled plasmid standards cause significant over-estimation in qPCR quantification. In this study, we investigated the effect of plasmid DNA conformation on the quantification of DNA and the efficiency of qPCR. Our results suggest that plasmid DNA conformation has significant impact on the accuracy of absolute quantification by qPCR. DNA standard curves shifted significantly among plasmid standards with different DNA conformations. Moreover, the choice of DNA measurement method and plasmid DNA conformation may also contribute to the measurement error of DNA standard curves. Due to the multiple effects of plasmid DNA conformation on the accuracy of qPCR, efforts should be made to assure the highest consistency of plasmid standards for qPCR. Thus, we suggest that the conformation, preparation, quantification, purification, handling, and storage of standard plasmid DNA should be described and defined in the Minimum Information for Publication of Quantitative Real-Time PCR Experiments (MIQE) to assure the reproducibility and accuracy of qPCR absolute quantification.
Telomere length plays an important role in maintaining chromosomal stability and in tumorigenesis. We hypothesized that telomere length in peripheral white blood cell DNA obtained from healthy individuals would be a predictor of future risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
Using a new assay to measure relative telomere length, monochrome multiplex quantitative PCR, which strongly correlates with telomere length measured by Southern blot (Spearman r = 0.91, p < 0.0001) and has high precision (coefficient of variation = 7%), we compared telomere length in peripheral white blood cell DNA in 107 incident male NHL cases and 107 matched controls within the prospective Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention (ATBC) Study cohort.
Median (10th, 90th percentile) telomere length was 1.10 (0.79, 1.43) in cases and 1.02 (0.78, 1.26) in controls (p = 0.0017, Wilcoxon sign test). There was a strong dose-response relationship between quartiles of telomere length and risk of NHL overall [odds ratios (95% confidence intervals) by quartile: 1.0; 1.1 (0.4-2.7); 1.8 (0.7-4.9); and 3.6 (1.4-8.9); p trend = 0.003)], and this association was similar across the most common NHL subtypes present in this study.
These results suggest that longer telomere length may be a potential predictor for future risk of NHL.
Telomere length; non-Hodgkin lymphoma; cohort
Quantitative PCR (qPCR) is a workhorse laboratory technique for measuring the concentration of a target DNA sequence with high accuracy over a wide dynamic range. The gold standard method for estimating DNA concentrations via qPCR is quantification cycle () standard curve quantification, which requires the time- and labor-intensive construction of a standard curve. In theory, the shape of a qPCR data curve can be used to directly quantify DNA concentration by fitting a model to data; however, current empirical model-based quantification methods are not as reliable as standard curve quantification.
We have developed a two-parameter mass action kinetic model of PCR (MAK2) that can be fitted to qPCR data in order to quantify target concentration from a single qPCR assay. To compare the accuracy of MAK2-fitting to other qPCR quantification methods, we have applied quantification methods to qPCR dilution series data generated in three independent laboratories using different target sequences. Quantification accuracy was assessed by analyzing the reliability of concentration predictions for targets at known concentrations. Our results indicate that quantification by MAK2-fitting is as reliable as standard curve quantification for a variety of DNA targets and a wide range of concentrations.
We anticipate that MAK2 quantification will have a profound effect on the way qPCR experiments are designed and analyzed. In particular, MAK2 enables accurate quantification of portable qPCR assays with limited sample throughput, where construction of a standard curve is impractical.
Some have suggested that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a disease of accelerated aging. Aging is characterized by shortening of telomeres. The relationship of telomere length to important clinical outcomes such as mortality, disease progression and cancer in COPD is unknown. Using quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR), we measured telomere length of peripheral leukocytes in 4,271 subjects with mild to moderate COPD who participated in the Lung Health Study (LHS). The subjects were followed for approximately 7.5 years during which time their vital status, FEV1 and smoking status were ascertained. Using multiple regression methods, we determined the relationship of telomere length to cancer and total mortality in these subjects. We also measured telomere length in healthy “mid-life” volunteers and patients with more severe COPD. The LHS subjects had significantly shorter telomeres than those of healthy “mid-life” volunteers (p<.001). Compared to individuals in the 4th quartile of relative telomere length (i.e. longest telomere group), the remaining participants had significantly higher risk of cancer mortality (Hazard ratio, HR, 1.48; p = 0.0324) and total mortality (HR, 1.29; p = 0.0425). Smoking status did not make a significant difference in peripheral blood cells telomere length. In conclusion, COPD patients have short leukocyte telomeres, which are in turn associated increased risk of total and cancer mortality. Accelerated aging is of particular relevance to cancer mortality in COPD.
Colorectal cancer (CRC) tumor DNA is characterized by chromosomal damage termed chromosomal instability (CIN) and excessively shortened telomeres. Up to 80% of CRC is microsatellite stable (MSS) and is historically considered to be chromosomally unstable (CIN+). However, tumor phenotyping depicts some MSS CRC with little or no genetic changes, thus being chromosomally stable (CIN-). MSS CIN- tumors have not been assessed for telomere attrition.
MSS rectal cancers from patients ≤50 years old with Stage II (B2 or higher) or Stage III disease were assessed for CIN, telomere length and telomere maintenance mechanism (telomerase activation [TA]; alternative lengthening of telomeres [ALT]). Relative telomere length was measured by qPCR in somatic epithelial and cancer DNA. TA was measured with the TRAPeze assay, and tumors were evaluated for the presence of C-circles indicative of ALT. p53 mutation status was assessed in all available samples. DNA copy number changes were evaluated with Spectral Genomics aCGH.
Tumors were classified as chromosomally stable (CIN-) and chromosomally instable (CIN+) by degree of DNA copy number changes. CIN- tumors (35%; n=6) had fewer copy number changes (<17% of their clones with DNA copy number changes) than CIN+ tumors (65%; n=13) which had high levels of copy number changes in 20% to 49% of clones. Telomere lengths were longer in CIN- compared to CIN+ tumors (p=0.0066) and in those in which telomerase was not activated (p=0.004). Tumors exhibiting activation of telomerase had shorter tumor telomeres (p=0.0040); and tended to be CIN+ (p=0.0949).
MSS rectal cancer appears to represent a heterogeneous group of tumors that may be categorized both on the basis of CIN status and telomere maintenance mechanism. MSS CIN- rectal cancers appear to have longer telomeres than those of MSS CIN+ rectal cancers and to utilize ALT rather than activation of telomerase.
Telomeres are required for maintaining genomic integrity and may play a role in carcinogenesis. Some, but not all, epidemiologic studies have found that short telomeres in leukocytes are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. To further elucidate this potential association, we examined telomere length in relation to breast cancer risk in prospectively collected blood samples from the Sister Study, a cohort of women aged 35-74 years who have a sister with breast cancer.
We performed a case-cohort analysis comparing incident breast cancer cases (n=342) with a subcohort (n=735), randomly selected from 29,026 participants enrolled by June 1, 2007. Relative telomere length in peripheral blood cells was estimated using a single tube monochrome multiplex quantitative PCR assay.
No association was observed between telomere length and breast cancer risk. Compared to the longest quartile, hazard ratios (HR) associated with the second, third and the shortest quartile were 0.91 (95% confidence interval [95% CI]: 0.62-1.34), 1.11 (95% CI: 0.77-1.60) and 0.93 (95% CI: 0.64-1.35), respectively. Subgroup analyses by menopausal status, invasiveness or estrogen-receptor status of breast cancer did not reveal evidence of association between telomere length in blood cells and subsequent breast cancer risk.
This prospective investigation does not support telomere length in blood cells as a biomarker for breast cancer risk.
breast cancer; telomere length; prospective study; biomarker; qPCR
Human telomeres, tandem repeats of TTAGGG nucleotides at the ends of chromosomes, are essential for maintaining genomic integrity and stability. Results of previous epidemiologic studies about the association of telomere length with risk of colorectal cancer (CRC) have been conflicting.
A case-control study was conducted in a Han population in Wuhan, central China. The relative telomere length (RTL) was measured in peripheral blood leukocytes (PBLs) using quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in 628 CRC cases and 1,256 age and sex frequency matched cancer-free controls. Odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) were calculated using unconditional logistic regression models to evaluate the association between RTL and CRC risk.
Using median RTL in the controls as the cutoff, individuals with shorter RTL were associated with a significantly increased risk of CRC (adjusted OR = 1.27, 95%CI: 1.05–1.55). When participants were further categorized into 3 and 4 groups according to the tertile and quartile RTL values of controls, significant relationships were still observed between shorter RTL and increased CRC risk (OR per tertile = 1.13, 95%CI: 1.00–1.28, Ptrend = 0.045; OR per quartile = 1.12, 95%CI: 1.03–1.23, Ptrend = 0.012). In stratified analyses, significant association between shorter RTL and increased CRC risk was found in females, individuals younger than 60 years old, never smokers and never drinkers.
This study suggested that short telomere length in PBLs was significantly associated with an increased risk of CRC in Chinese Han population. Further validation in large prospective studies and investigation of the biologic mechanisms are warranted.
Telomere dysfunction, which leads to genomic instability, is hypothesized to play a causal role in the development of breast cancer. However, the few epidemiologic studies that assessed the relationship between telomere length in blood cells and breast cancer risk have been inconsistent. We conducted two case-control studies to further understand the role of telomere length and breast cancer risk.
Overall telomere lengths were measured by telomere quantitative fluorescent in situ hybridization (TQ-FISH) and telomere quantitative real-time PCR (TQ-PCR). The associations between telomere length from blood leucocytes and risk of breast cancer were examine in two breast cancer case-control studies that were conducted at Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) and Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center (LCCC).
Using the 50th percentile value in controls as a cut point, women who had shorter telomere length were not at significantly increased risk of breast cancer compared with women who had longer telomere length in the RPCI study (odds ratio [OR] = 1.34, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.84 to 2.12), in the LCCC study (OR = 1.18, 95% CI = 0.73 to 1.91), or in the combined RPCI and LCCC studies (OR = 1.23, 95% CI = 0.89 to 1.71). There was no significant dose-response relationship across quartiles of telomere length and no significant difference when comparing women in the lowest to highest quartile of telomere length.
Overall telomere length from blood leucocytes was not significantly associated with the risk of breast cancer.
Telomere length; blood leucocytes; breast cancer; biomarkers; genetic susceptibility
Amplification of a cDNA product by quantitative PCR (qPCR) is monitored by a fluorescent signal proportional to the amount of produced amplicon. The qPCR amplification curve usually displays an exponential phase followed by a non-exponential phase, ending with a plateau. Contrary to prevalent interpretation, we demonstrate that under standard qPCR conditions, the plateau can be explained by depletion of the probe through Taq polymerase- catalysed hydrolysis. Knowing the probe concentration and the fluorescence measured at the plateau, a specific fluorescence can thus be calculated. As far as probe hydrolysis quantitatively reflects amplicon synthesis, this, in turn, makes it possible to convert measured fluorescence levels in the exponential phase into concentrations of produced amplicon. It follows that the absolute target cDNA concentration initially engaged in the qPCR can be directly estimated from the fluorescence data, with no need to refer to any calibration with known concentrations of target DNA.
This unit presents a specific and sensitive quantitative reverse-transcription PCR (RT-qPCR) method for measuring individual microRNAs (miRNAs) in tissue or cultured cells. MiRNAs are 17 – 24 nucleotides (nt) in length. Standard and quantitative PCR methods require a template that is at least twice the length of either of the specific forward or reverse primers, each typically ∼ 20 nt in length. Thus, the target minimum length is ≥ 40 nt, making miRNAs too short for standard RT-qPCR methods. In this assay, each of the RT-qPCR nucleic acid reagents, including the RT-primer, the forward and reverse PCR primers, and the hydrolysis probe, contain design features that, together, optimize miRNA specificity and assay sensitivity. The RT-primer contains a highly stable stem-loop structure that lengthens the target cDNA. The forward PCR primer adds additional length with nucleotides that optimize its melting temperature (Tm) and enhance assay specificity. The reverse primer disrupts the stem loop. Assay specificity is further optimized by placement of the probe over much of the original miRNA sequence, and the probe Tm is optimized by addition of a minor groove binding (MGB) moiety.
miRNA; MIQE; RT-qPCR
Telomeres play a central role in human cancer, cardiovascular aging and possibly longevity. However, present methods to measure telomere length are fraught with shortcomings that limit their use. Here, we describe a novel method to measure the relative telomere DNA content by dot blot analysis. In each dot, the DNA content is measured by a DNA stain (Dx) and the telomeric DNA content is measured with a telomeric probe (T). The T normalized for Dx (T/Dx) of each dot is a measure of telomere content. The method requires ∼20 ng of DNA per assay. Moreover, the T/Dx data are highly correlated linearly with mean telomere lengths derived from Southern blots of the terminal restriction fragments (r > 0.96, P < 0.0001). The method is also simple to use, has a relatively low interassay coefficient of variation (<6%), retains its precision in moderately degraded DNA and can be forged for high throughput analysis. The method might help researchers and clinicians alike in understanding risks for and extent of human diseases.
Background & Aims
Telomere shortening is implicated in cancer and aging, and might link these two biological events. We explored this hypothesis in ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammatory disease that predisposes to colorectal cancer and where shorter telomeres have been associated with chromosomal instability and tumor progression.
Telomere length was measured by quantitative PCR in colonocytes and leukocytes of two different sets of ulcerative colitis patients, and compared with normal controls across a wide range of ages. For a subset of patients, telomere length was measured in epithelium and stroma of right and left colon biopsies. A third set of biopsies was analyzed for phosphorylation of histone H2AX (γH2AX), a DNA damage signal, by immunofluorescence, and for telomere length by quantitative FISH. Relationships between telomere length, γH2AX intensity, age, disease duration, and age of disease onset were explored.
Colonocyte telomeres shorten with age almost twice as rapidly in ulcerative colitis patients as in normal controls. This extensive shortening occurs within approximately eight years of disease duration. Leukocyte telomeres are slightly shorter in ulcerative colitis patients than in controls, but telomeres of colon stromal cells are unaffected. γH2AX intensity is higher in colonocytes of ulcerative colitis patients than in controls and is not dependent on age or telomere length.
Colonocytes of ulcerative colitis patients show premature shortening of telomeres, which might explain the increased and earlier risk of cancer in this disease. Shorter leukocyte telomeres and increased γH2AX in colonocytes might reflect oxidative damage secondary to inflammation.
ulcerative colitis; telomere length; γH2AX; colon; age
Colorectal cancer (CRC) can be prevented by the early detection and removal of advanced adenomas (AAs) by colonoscopy. Our aim was to evaluate peripheral blood leukocyte (PBL) telomere length as a potential biomarker for the presence of AAs.
PBL telomere length was measured in patients with AAs (n = 35), in a control group of similar-aged patients who had a normal colonoscopy (n = 145) and in a separate population group with no history of cancer, again similarly aged (n = 495). Telomere measurements were performed using a quantitative PCR assay and reported a ratio of telomere and single copy gene measurements.
Telomere lengths tended to be lower in the patients with AAs than in patients in the normal colonoscopy group (p < 0.001) as well as those in the population group (p = 0.011). A telomere/single copy gene ratio of 0.5 was found to have an estimated 94% sensitivity and 56% specificity for AAs; a combination of sensitivity and specificity for which a value of >0.5 would reduce the odds of a patient having AAs by a factor of 0.11 (the negative likelihood ratio). Thirty three percent of individuals in the population group tested above this cut off and could be considered at low risk for AAs.
PBL telomeres are shortened in patients with colorectal neoplasia suggesting that PBL telomere length could be a promising non-invasive blood biomarker to pre-screen for risk of AAs prior to colonoscopy.
Telomeres; Colorectal polyps; Colorectal adenomas
Telomere length analysis has been greatly simplified by the quantitative flow cytometry technique flow-FISH. In this method, a fluorescein-labeled synthetic oligonucleotide complementary to the telomere terminal repeat sequence is hybridized to the telomere sequence and the resulting fluorescence measured by flow cytometry. This technique has supplanted the traditional laborious Southern blot telomere length measurement techniques in many laboratories, and allows single cell analysis of telomere length in high-throughput sample formats. Nevertheless, the harsh conditions required for telomere probe annealing (82°C) has made it difficult to successfully combine this technique with simultaneous immunolabeling. Most traditional organic fluorescent probes (i.e. fluorescein, phycoerythrin, etc.) have limited thermal stability and do not survive the high-temperature annealing process, despite efforts to covalently crosslink the antigen-antibody-fluorophore complex. This loss of probe fluorescence has made it difficult to measure flow-FISH in complex lymphocyte populations, and has generally forced investigators to use fluorescent-activated cell sorting to pre-separate their populations, a laborious technique that requires prohibitively large numbers of cells.
In this study, we have substituted quantum dots (nanoparticles) for traditional fluorophores in FISH-flow. Quantum dots were demonstrated to possess much greater thermal stability than traditional low molecular weight and phycobiliprotein fluorophores. Quantum dot antibody conjugates directed against monocyte and T cell antigens were found to retain most of their fluorescence following the high-temperature annealing step, allowing simultaneous fluorescent immunophenotyping and telomere length measurement. Since quantum dots have very narrow emission bandwidths, we were able to analyze multiple quantum dot-antibody conjugates (Qdot 605, 655 and 705) simultaneously with FISH-flow measurement to assess the age-associated decline in telomere length in both human monocytes and T cell subsets. With quantum dot immunolabeling, the mean decrease rate in telomere length for CD4+ cells was calculated at 41.8bp/year, very close to previously reported values using traditional flow-FISH and Southern blotting. This modification to the traditional flow-FISH technique should therefore allow simultaneous fluorescent immunophenotyping and telomere length measurement, permitting complex cell subset-specific analysis in small numbers of cells without the requirement for prior cell sorting.
FISH-flow cytometry; quantum dots; telomere length
Studies of telomeres and telomere biology often critically rely on the detection of telomeric DNA and measurements of the length of telomere repeats in either single cells or populations of cells. Several methods are available that provide this type of information and it is often not clear what method is most appropriate to address a specific research question. The major variables that need to be considered are the material that is or can be made available and the accuracy of measurements that is required. The goal of this review is to provide a comprehensive summary of the most commonly used methods and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each. Methods that start with genomic DNA include telomere restriction fragment (TRF) length analysis, PCR amplification of telomere repeats relative to a single copy gene by Q-PCR or MMQPCR and single telomere length analysis (STELA), a PCR-based approach that accurately measures the full spectrum of telomere lengths from individual chromosomes. A different set of methods relies on fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) to detect telomere repeats in individual cells or chromosomes. By including essential calibration steps and appropriate controls these methods can be used to measure telomere repeat length or content in chromosomes and cells. Such methods include quantitative FISH (Q-FISH) and flow FISH which are based on digital microscopy and flow cytometry respectively. Here the basic principles of various telomere length measurement methods are described and their strengths and weaknesses are highlighted. Some recent developments in telomere length analysis are also discussed. The information in this review should facilitate the selection of the most suitable method to address specific research question about telomeres in either model organisms or human subjects.
Telomere length; Flow FISH; Q-PCR; TRF; Q-FISH; STELA