Human and mouse telomerases show a high degree of similarity in both the protein and RNA components. Human telomerase is more active and more processive than the mouse telomerase. There are two key differences between hTR [human TR (telomerase RNA)] and mTR (mouse TR) structures. First, the mouse telomerase contains only 2 nt upstream of its template region, whereas the human telomerase contains 45 nt. Secondly, the template region of human telomerase contains a 5-nt alignment domain, whereas that of mouse has only 2 nt. We hypothesize that these differences are responsible for the differential telomerase activities. Mutations were made in both the hTR and mTR, changing the template length and the length of the RNA upstream of the template, and telomerase was reconstituted in vitro using mouse telomerase reverse transcriptase generated by in vitro translation. We show that the sequences upstream of the template region, with a potential to form a double-stranded helix (the P1 helix) as in hTR, increase telomerase activity. The longer alignment domain increases telomerase activity only in the context of the P1 helix. Thus the TR contributes to regulating the level of activity of mammalian telomerases.

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