Telomere maintenance executed by the action of telomerase seems to be a prerequisite for immortalization. Telomerase is found in most cell lines and malignant tumors. A telomerase-independent mechanism for telomere maintenance in Hodgkin's disease has been proposed in the absence of detectable telomerase activity. In this study, telomerase activity was detected in 31 of 77 Hodgkin's disease samples and a strong correlation between eosinophilia and absence of detectable telomerase activity was found. Purified eosinophils and specifically eosinophil-derived neurotoxin and eosinophilic cationic protein, both ribonucleases, were found to degrade telomerase. Purified neutrophils also exhibited weak telomerase degradative activity. Reanalysis of previously telomerase-negative Hodgkin's disease samples with eosinophilia using ribonuclease inhibitors resulted in the detection of telomerase activity. Ribonuclease-containing cells in vivo thus have a considerable impact on the detectability of telomerase. In Hodgkin's disease samples without eosinophilia, 24 of 27 exhibited telomerase activity at decreased levels compared with non-Hodgkin's lymphomas and at increased levels compared with reactive nodes indicative of a telomerase positive tumor component in Hodgkin's disease. Telomerase positivity of the Hodgkin's and Reed-Sternberg cells in vivo was also supported by high levels of telomerase expression in Hodgkin's disease cell lines. Based on our data, Hodgkin's lymphomas are potential targets for antitelomerase therapy.

  • Submitted October 20, 1997.
  • Accepted March 6, 1998.
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