Telomeres are found at the end of eukaryotic linear chromosomes, and proteins that bind to telomeres protect DNA from being recognized as double-strand breaks thus preventing end-to-end fusions (Griffith et al., 1999). However, due to the end replication problem and other factors such as oxidative damage, the limited life span of cultured cells (Hayflick limit) results in progressive shortening of these protective structures (Hayflick and Moorhead, 1961; Olovnikov, 1973). The ribonucleoprotein enzyme complex telomerase- consisting of a protein catalytic component hTERT and a functional RNA component hTR or hTERC- counteracts telomere shortening by adding telomeric repeats to the end of chromosomes in ~90% of primary human tumors and in some transiently proliferating stem-like cells (Shay and Wright, 1996; Shay and Wright, 2001). This results in continuous proliferation of cells which is a hallmark of cancer. Therefore, telomere biology has a central role in aging, cancer progression/metastasis as well as targeted cancer therapies. There are commonly used methods in telomere biology such as Telomere Restriction Fragment (TRF) (Mender and Shay, 2015b), Telomere Repeat Amplification Protocol (TRAP) and Telomere dysfunction Induced Foci (TIF) analysis (Mender and Shay, 2015a). In this detailed protocol we describe Telomere Repeat Amplification Protocol (TRAP).
The TRAP assay is a popular method to determine telomerase activity in mammalian cells and tissue samples (Kim et al., 1994). The TRAP assay includes three steps: extension, amplification, and detection of telomerase products. In the extension step, telomeric repeats are added to the telomerase substrate (which is actually a non telomeric oligonucleotide, TS) by telomerase. In the amplification step, the extension products are amplified by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using specific primers (TS upstream primer and ACX downstream primer) and in the detection step, the presence or absence of telomerase is analyzed by electrophoresis. TSNT is, an internal standard control, amplified by TS primer. NT is its own reverse primer, which is not a substrate for telomerase. These primers are used to identify false-negative results by if the gel lacks internal control bands.
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