SMARCAL1 loss and alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT) are enriched in giant cell glioblastoma

Jacqueline A. Brosnan-Cashman, Christine M. Davis, Bill H. Diplas, Alan K. Meeker, Fausto J. Rodriguez, Christopher M. Heaphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Subsets of high-grade gliomas, including glioblastoma (GBM), are known to utilize the alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT) pathway for telomere length maintenance. However, the telomere maintenance profile of one subtype of GBM—giant cell GBM—has not been extensively studied. Here, we investigated the prevalence of ALT, as well as ATRX and SMARCAL1 protein loss, in a cohort of classic giant cell GBM and GBM with giant cell features. To determine the presence of ALT, a telomere-specific fluorescence in situ hybridization assay was performed on 15 cases of classic giant cell GBM, 28 additional GBMs found to have giant cell features, and 1 anaplastic astrocytoma with giant cell features. ATRX, SMARCAL1, and IDH1 protein status were assessed in a proportion of cases by immunohistochemistry and were compared to clinical-pathologic and molecular characteristics. In the overall cohort of 44 cases, 19 (43%) showed evidence of ALT. Intriguingly, of the ALT-positive cases, only 9 (47.4%) displayed loss of the ALT suppressor ATRX by immunohistochemistry. Since inactivating mutations in SMARCAL1 have been identified in ATRX wild-type ALT-positive gliomas, we developed an immunohistochemistry assay for SMARCAL1 protein expression using genetically validated controls. Of the 19 ALT-positive cases, 6 (31.5%) showed loss or mis-localization of SMARCAL1 by immunohistochemistry. Of these cases, four retained ATRX protein expression, while two cases also displayed ATRX loss. Additionally, we assessed five cases from which multiple temporal samples were available and ALT status was concordant between both tumor biopsies. In summary, we have identified a subset of giant cell GBM that utilize the ALT telomere maintenance mechanism. Importantly, in addition to ATRX loss, ALT-positive tumors harboring SMARCAL1 alterations are prevalent in giant cell GBM.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1810-1819
Number of pages10
JournalModern Pathology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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