New insights into melanoma development

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Science  29 Sep 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6358, pp. 1358-1359
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao6963

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Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. There will be ∼87,000 new cases of invasive melanoma and >9000 deaths in the United States in 2017 (1). Telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) is a component of telomerase. This enzyme extends the repeat sequences at the ends of chromosomes (telomeres), which get shorter each time a cell divides, allowing cells to continue to divide. Telomerase is up-regulated in 85 to 90% of all advanced human cancers. However, although they frequently occur, the role of TERT promoter mutations (TPMs) in cancer progression, or even immortalization, is unclear. On page 1416 of this issue, Chiba et al. (2) propose a two-step mechanism of melanomagenesis by which TPMs in melanocytes (pigmented cells in the skin that form melanoma) moderately up-regulate telomerase, thereby extending the life span of melanocytes; this increases their chances of acquiring additional mutations and becoming melanoma.