hTERT, MKRN1, differentiation, telomerase, ATRA, HL-60


Telomeres are important structural and functional components of chromosomes, serving to provide stability and enabling full replication of the chromosomes. However, a shortening of the telomeres occurs with each cell division that can be fixed by a polymerase activity provided by telomerase, preventing this loss which would otherwise eventually lead to chromosome end-to-end fusions, senescence and cell death. The telomerase activity is present in stem cells and germ line cells, but absent or barely noticeable in adult somatic cells. However, in approximately 80-90% of transformed somatic cells the telomerase activity is recovered, resulting in a "telomerase positive phenotype". This phenotype has been a prime target in cancer research, and recently a novel mechanism for regulating telomerase levels has been uncovered. Makorin 1 RING finger protein (MKRN1) was found to be an E3 ubiquitin ligase for hTERT, the rate-limiting catalytic component of telomerase, leading to the ubiqutin-mediated 26s proteasomal degradation of hTERT and reduced telomerase activity. So, MKRN1 plays a role in telomere homeostasis. In this study we looked at the expression of MKRN1 in numerous tumor cell lines (Hela, HCT116, HL60) and the normal diploid fibroblasts (WI-38). In the latter cell line, basal levels of MKRN1 were found to increase 6-fold when the cells were serum starved and arrested in G1/G0. In contrast, the cancer cell lines expressed MKRN1 at low levels or undetectable. This would indicate that MKRN1 is up-regulated in resting or G1 arrested cells.In one cell line the promyelocytic leukemia, HL-60, showed no protein levels of MKRN1. This cell line is able to be terminally differentiated upon ATRA treatment, when cells are arrested at G1. In this model system of cellular differentiation hTERT mRNA levels and telomerase activity decrease drastically and quickly. We hypothesized that the differentiation of HL-60 induced by ATRA would be accompanied by an increase in MKRN1 levels. MKRN1 mRNA and protein levels were strongly up-regulated during the ATRA-mediated differentiation of HL-60 cells. Although, a decrease in hTERT mRNA is a contributor to telomerase inhibition during cellular differentiation; our data indicate that the up-regulation of MKRN1 ensures the effective removal of residual telomerase activity by the ubiquitin-mediated degradation pathway at the proteasome.


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Graduation Date



Muller, Mark T.


Master of Science (M.S.)


Burnett College of Biomedical Sciences


Molecular Biology and Microbiology

Degree Program

Molecular and Microbiology








Release Date

February 2010

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)