Heterozygous RTEL1 variants in bone marrow failure and myeloid neoplasms

Judith C. W. Marsh, Fernanda Gutierrez-Rodrigues, James Cooper, Jie Jiang, Shreyans Gandhi, Sachiko Kajigaya, Xingmin Feng, Maria del Pilar F. Ibanez, Flávia S. Donaires, João P. Lopes da Silva, Zejuan Li, Soma Das, Maria Ibanez, Alexander E. Smith, Nicholas Lea, Steven Best, Robin Ireland, Austin G. Kulasekararaj, Donal P. McLornan, Anthony Pagliuca, Isabelle Callebaut, Neal S. Young, Rodrigo T. Calado, Danielle M. Townsley and Ghulam J Mufti

Key Points

  • RTEL1 variants associate with AA, idiopathic cytopenias, and hypocellular myelodysplastic syndromes.

  • Detailed clinical/family history, functional assays, and in silico tools are critical for interpreting the pathogenicity of RTEL1 variants.


Biallelic germline mutations in RTEL1 (regulator of telomere elongation helicase 1) result in pathologic telomere erosion and cause dyskeratosis congenita. However, the role of RTEL1 mutations in other bone marrow failure (BMF) syndromes and myeloid neoplasms, and the contribution of monoallelic RTEL1 mutations to disease development are not well defined. We screened 516 patients for germline mutations in telomere-associated genes by next-generation sequencing in 2 independent cohorts; one constituting unselected patients with idiopathic BMF, unexplained cytopenia, or myeloid neoplasms (n = 457) and a second cohort comprising selected patients on the basis of the suspicion of constitutional/familial BMF (n = 59). Twenty-three RTEL1 variants were identified in 27 unrelated patients from both cohorts: 7 variants were likely pathogenic, 13 were of uncertain significance, and 3 were likely benign. Likely pathogenic RTEL1 variants were identified in 9 unrelated patients (7 heterozygous and 2 biallelic). Most patients were suspected to have constitutional BMF, which included aplastic anemia (AA), unexplained cytopenia, hypoplastic myelodysplastic syndrome, and macrocytosis with hypocellular bone marrow. In the other 18 patients, RTEL1 variants were likely benign or of uncertain significance. Telomeres were short in 21 patients (78%), and 3′ telomeric overhangs were significantly eroded in 4. In summary, heterozygous RTEL1 variants were associated with marrow failure, and telomere length measurement alone may not identify patients with telomere dysfunction carrying RTEL1 variants. Pathogenicity assessment of heterozygous RTEL1 variants relied on a combination of clinical, computational, and functional data required to avoid misinterpretation of common variants.

  • Submitted May 2, 2017.
  • Accepted October 17, 2017.
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