Telomerase activity is essential for maintaining the termini of linear chromosomes. Telomerase consists of both a RNA and a specialized reverse transcriptase. Our objective for this study was to determine the molecular and cytogenetic features of the chicken telomerase reverse transcriptase (chTERT) gene and protein. The TERT mRNA from gastrula stage embryos was found to be 4497 bp in length, translating into a protein of 1346 amino acids (aa). The chTERT protein shares 45% aa identity with human TERT (hTERT). A distinctive feature of chTERT, as compared to human and other vertebrate TERTs, is the larger size of the protein due mainly to a considerably longer N-terminal flexible linker region (144 aa longer than in human). Chicken TERT was mapped to chromosome 2q21 near an interstitial telomere site. Several transcription factor binding motifs in the 5' flanking/promoter region of chTERT were similar to those found associated with hTERT (E-box, Ik1, MAZ, Sp1 sites), whereas several c-Myb sites were found associated with chTERT only and c-Ets-2 and WT1 were associated with hTERT only. Results presented here should promote structure-function studies of chTERT, as well as contribute to the comparative analysis of TERT regulation and function in vertebrates utilizing the telomere clock mechanism to different degrees.
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