Catalytically active human telomerase mutants with allele-specific biological properties

Moses Kim, Lifeng Xu, Elizabeth H. Blackburn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Expression of the catalytic subunit of human telomerase, hTERT, extends human primary fibroblast life span. Such life span extension has generally been reported to be accompanied by net telomere lengthening, which led to the hypothesis that it is the telomere lengthening that causes the life span extension. Here we show that hTERT+C and hTERT-FlagC, mutant telomerase proteins with either 10 additional residues or a FLAG epitope added to the hTERT C-terminus, confer significant but limited life span extension to IMR90 human primary lung fibroblasts. However, as the cells continue to grow for >100 population doublings past their normal senescence point, bulk telomere length continues to erode to lengths much shorter than those seen at the senescence of control telomerase-negative cells. Expression of hTERT+C immortalized IMR90 cells transformed by three different oncogenes. Again, bulk telomeres became much shorter than those of the control cells at crisis. Additional hTERT mutants were constructed and analyzed similarly. Enzymatically active hTERT-N125A+T126A, like other previously reported conserved GQ domain mutants and C-terminally HA-tagged hTERT, failed to extend life span. Another GQ domain mutant, hTERT-E79A, was indistinguishable from wild-type hTERT in its cell growth effects, but there was no net telomere lengthening. These results uncover further hTERT allele-specific phenotypes that uncouple telomerase activity, net telomere lengthening and life span extension.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)277-287
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Cell Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 15 2003


  • Human telomerase
  • Immortalization
  • IMR90 cells
  • Primary fibroblasts
  • Telomerase mutants
  • Telomere length
  • Telomeres
  • Viral oncogenes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


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