Eukaryotic chromosomes are capped with repetitive telomere sequences that protect the ends from damage and rearrangements. Telomere repeats are synthesized by telomerase, a ribonucleic acid (RNA) - protein complex. Here, the cloning of the RNA component of human telomerase, termed hTR, is described. The template region of hTR encompasses 11 nucleotides (5′-CUAACCCUAAC) complementary to the human telomere sequence (TTAGGG)n. Germline tissues and tumor cell lines expressed more hTR than normal somatic cells and tissues, which have no detectable telomerase activity. Human cell lines that expressed hTR mutated in the template region generated the predicted mutant telomerase activity. HeLa cells transfected with an antisense hTR lost telomeric DNA and began to die after 23 to 26 doublings. Thus, human telomerase is a critical enzyme for the long-term proliferation of immortal tumor cells.
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