Telomerase is a ribonucleoprotein enzyme with an essential RNA component. Embedded within the telomerase RNA is a template sequence for telomere synthesis. We have characterized the structure of the 5' regions of the human and mouse telomerase-RNA genes, and have found a striking difference in the location of the template sequence: Whereas the 5'-end of the human telomerase RNA lies 45 nt from the telomerase-RNA template sequence, the 5'-end of the mouse telomerase RNA lies just 2 nt from the telomerase-RNA template sequence. Analysis of genomic sequences flanking the 5'-end of the human and mouse telomerase RNA-coding sequences reveals similar promoter-element arrangements typical of mRNA-type promoters: a TATA box-like element and an upstream region containing a consensus CCAAT box. This putative promoter structure contrasts with that of the ciliate telomerase-RNA genes whose structure resembles RNA polymerase III U6 small nuclear RNA (snRNA) promoters. These and other comparisons suggest that, during evolution, both the RNA-polymerase specificity of telomerase RNA-gene promoters and, more recently, the position of the template sequence in the telomerase RNA changed.
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