by Tom J. Vulliamy, Michael J. Kirwan, Richard Beswick, Upal Hossain, Charlotte Baqai, Anna Ratcliffe, Judith Marsh, Amanda Walne, Inderjeet Dokal
The bone marrow failure syndrome dyskeratosis congenita (DC) has been considered to be a disorder of telomere maintenance in which disease features arise due to accelerated shortening of telomeres. By screening core components of the telomerase and shelterin complexes in patients with DC and related bone marrow failure syndromes we have identified 24 novel mutations: 11 in the RNA component of telomerase (TERC), 8 in the reverse transcriptase component (TERT), 4 in dyskerin (DKC1) and 1 in TRF1-interacting nuclear factor 2 (TINF2). This has prompted us to review these genetic subtypes in terms of telomere length, telomerase activity and clinical presentation among 194 genetically characterised index cases recruited onto the registry in London. While those with DKC1 and TINF2 mutations present at a younger age and have more disease features than those with TERC or TERT mutations, there is no difference in telomere length between these groups. There is no difference in the age of onset and numbers of disease features seen in those with TERC and TERT mutations despite the fact that the latter show higher levels of telomerase activity in vitro. The incidence of aplastic anaemia is greater in patients with TERC or TINF2 mutations compared to patients with DKC1 mutations, and cancer incidence is highest in patients with TERC mutations. These data are the first to provide robust comparisons between different genetic subtypes of telomerase and shelterin mutations (the “telomereopathies”) and clearly demonstrate that disease severity is not explained by telomere length alone.