The catalytic and the RNA subunits of human telomerase are required to immortalize equid primary fibroblasts

Pamela Vidale, Elisa Magnani, Solomon G. Nergadze, Marco Santagostino, Gael Cristofari, Alexandra Smirnova, Chiara Mondello, Elena Giulotto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many human primary somatic cells can be immortalized by inducing telomerase activity through the exogenous expression of the human telomerase catalytic subunit (hTERT). This approach has been extended to the immortalization of cell lines from several mammals. Here, we show that hTERT expression is not sufficient to immortalize primary fibroblasts from three equid species, namely donkey, Burchelli's zebra and Grevy's zebra. In vitro analysis of a reconstituted telomerase composed by hTERT and an equid RNA component of telomerase (TERC) revealed a low activity of this enzyme compared to human telomerase, suggesting a low compatibility of equid and human telomerase subunits. This conclusion was also strengthened by comparison of human and equid TERC sequences, which revealed nucleotide differences in key regions for TERC and TERT interaction. We then succeeded in immortalizing equid fibroblasts by expressing hTERT and hTERC concomitantly. Expression of both human telomerase subunits led to telomerase activity and telomere elongation, indicating that human telomerase is compatible with the other equid telomerase subunits and proteins involved in telomere metabolism. The immortalization procedure described herein could be extended to primary cells from other mammals. The availability of immortal cells from endangered species could be particularly useful for obtaining new information on the organization and function of their genomes, which is relevant for their preservation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)475-488
Number of pages14
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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