• telomerase;
  • prostatic neoplasm;
  • disseminated cells;
  • prostate specific antigen;
  • radical prostatectomy


To analyse telomerase activity in disseminated prostate cancer cells isolated from bone marrow aspirates taken from men with localized prostate cancer before radical prostatectomy (RP).


Disseminated epithelial prostate cancer cells were isolated from bone marrow aspirates from 69 men with localized prostate cancer before RP, by magnetic column-chromatography enrichment, followed by isolation of fluorescently labelled epithelial cells by micropipetting. We used pools of 10 non-epithelial bone marrow cells after tumour cell enrichment as control samples. These pure cell pools were tested for the presence of telomerase activity.


In all, 49 of the patient samples contained disseminated prostate cancer cells. Homogeneous pools of 10 cells were obtained from 35 of these; 49% of the 35 specimens showed telomerase activity, whereas all five control samples did not. Telomerase activity in the 35 samples was not significantly associated with Gleason score, preoperative prostate-specific antigen level, tumour stage, or surgical margin status. Follow-up is continuing to assess an association with disease recurrence.


This work shows the feasibility of isolating disseminated cancer cells for analysing individual or pooled cells. Compared to tissue staining, where telomerase is detected in 80–90% of samples, we found lower rates of telomerase activity in the disseminated tumour cells (49%). Telomerase-negative cells might provide information about cell dormancy, as telomerase is a marker of cell proliferation in immortal and cancer cells. Telomerase-positive cells might predict early disease recurrence, but a longer follow-up is needed to test this possibility.