Background: Telomerase (human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT) is considered a hallmark of cancer, being active in cancer cells but repressed in human somatic cells. As such, it has the potential to serve as a valid cancer biomarker. Exosomal hTERT mRNA can be detected in the serum of patients with solid malignancies but not in healthy individuals. We sought to evaluate the feasibility of measuring serum exosomal hTERT transcripts levels in patients with lung cancer. Methods: A prospective analysis of exosomal hTERT mRNA levels was determined in serum-derived exosomes from 76 patients with stage III–IV lung cancer (11 SCLC and 65 NSCLC). An hTERT level above RQ = 1.2 was considered “detectable” according to a previous receiver operating characteristic curve (ROC) curve. Sequential measurements were obtained in 33 patients. Demographic and clinical data were collected retrospectively from patients’ charts. Data on response to systemic therapy (chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and tyrosine kinase inhibitors) were collected by the treating physicians. Results: hTERT was detected in 53% (40/76) of patients with lung cancer (89% of SCLC and 46% of NSLCC). The mean hTERT levels were 3.7 in all 76 patients, 5.87 in SCLC patients, and 3.62 in NSCLC patients. In total, 25 of 43 patients with sequential measurements had detectable levels of hTERT. The sequential exosomal hTERT mRNA levels reflected the clinical course in 23 of them. Decreases in hTERT levels were detected in 17 and 5 patients with partial and complete response, respectively. Eleven patients with a progressive disease had an increase in the level of exosomal hTERT, and seven with stable disease presented increases in its exosomal levels. Another patient who progressed on the first line of treatment and had a partial response to the second line of treatment exhibited an increase in exosomal hTERT mRNA levels during the progression and a decrease during the response. Conclusions: Exosomal hTERT mRNA levels are elevated in over half of patients with lung cancer. The potential association between hTERT levels and response to therapy suggests its utility as a promising cancer biomarker for response to therapy. This issue should be further explored in future studies.
- non-small-cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC)
- small-cell lung carcinoma (SCLC)