Telomerase maintains telomere length and is considered to be necessary for the indefinite proliferation of human cells. Telomerase activity is detected not only in germline and immortal cancer cells, but also in stem/progenitor cells of renewal tissues and activated lymphocytes. While it is generally agreed that telomerase is a useful tumor marker, the utility of telomerase activity in non-cancerous cells should also be considered. In the present study, we quantitatively examined telomerase activity in 56 cytology samples and 106 bronchoalveolar lavage samples obtained from patients with various respiratory diseases. Fourteen of 34 samples obtained from lung cancer patients showed detectable telomerase activity, while only 7 of 128 samples obtained from patients without lung cancer did (p<0.001). Moreover, 12 of 14 telomerase-positive samples with lung cancer showed strong signals, while none without lung cancer did. Among 106 non-cancerous bronchoalveolar lavage samples, 4 telomerase positive samples had increased number of lymphocytes and increased disease progression. These findings indicate that evaluation of telomerase activity may not only be a useful diagnostic test for lung cancer, but may also be a marker of disease aggressiveness for immune-associated lung diseases.
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