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Open Access Research article

Alternative splicing and nonsense-mediated decay regulate telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) expression during virus-induced lymphomagenesis in vivo

Souheila Amor1, Sylvie Remy12, Ginette Dambrine12, Yves Le Vern23, Denis Rasschaert1* and Sylvie Laurent12

Author Affiliations

1 Equipe TLVI, Université François Rabelais de Tours, UFR Sciences et Techniques, Parc de Grandmont 37200 Tours France

2 INRA-Département de Santé Animale - Centre de recherches de Tours - 37380 Nouzilly - France

3 Centre de recherches INRA de Tours-UR IASP - Service de Cytométrie - 37380 Nouzilly-France

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BMC Cancer 2010, 10:571  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-10-571

Published: 21 October 2010



Telomerase activation, a critical step in cell immortalization and oncogenesis, is partly regulated by alternative splicing. In this study, we aimed to use the Marek's disease virus (MDV) T-cell lymphoma model to evaluate TERT regulation by splicing during lymphomagenesis in vivo, from the start point to tumor establishment.


We first screened cDNA libraries from the chicken MDV lymphoma-derived MSB-1 T- cell line, which we compared with B (DT40) and hepatocyte (LMH) cell lines. The chTERT splicing pattern was cell line-specific, despite similar high levels of telomerase activity. We identified 27 alternative transcripts of chicken TERT (chTERT). Five were in-frame alternative transcripts without in vitro telomerase activity in the presence of viral or chicken telomerase RNA (vTR or chTR), unlike the full-length transcript. Nineteen of the 22 transcripts with a premature termination codon (PTC) harbored a PTC more than 50 nucleotides upstream from the 3' splice junction, and were therefore predicted targets for nonsense-mediated decay (NMD). The major PTC-containing alternatively spliced form identified in MSB1 (ie10) was targeted to the NMD pathway, as demonstrated by UPF1 silencing. We then studied three splicing events separately, and the balance between in-frame alternative splice variants (d5f and d10f) plus the NMD target i10ec and constitutively spliced chTERT transcripts during lymphomagenesis induced by MDV indicated that basal telomerase activity in normal T cells was associated with a high proportion of in-frame non functional isoforms and a low proportion of constitutively spliced chTERT. Telomerase upregulation depended on an increase in active constitutively spliced chTERT levels and coincided with a switch in alternative splicing from an in-frame variant to NMD-targeted variants.


TERT regulation by splicing plays a key role in telomerase upregulation during lymphomagenesis, through the sophisticated control of constitutive and alternative splicing. Using the MDV T-cell lymphoma model, we identified a chTERT splice variant as a new NMD target.