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J Mol Neurosci. 2008;34(1):63-75. Epub 2007 Sep 19.

Molecular cloning and characterization of the zebrafish (Danio rerio) telomerase catalytic subunit (telomerase reverse transcriptase, TERT).

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  • 1Department of Anatomy, Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong SAR, China.


Telomerase is an enzyme composed of a catalytic subunit (TERT) and RNA template (TR), which specifically elongates telomeres and prevents cellular senescence. Although telomerase cannot be detected in most human somatic tissues, including the nervous system, it can be detected in teleost tissues. To facilitate the investigation of telomerase function in the teleost visual system, the coding sequence of zebrafish TERT is revealed and cloned. Immunoblot, immunohistochemistry, reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), and telomeric repeats amplification protocol (TRAP) assay are used to assess the expression of telomerase at mRNA, protein, and functional levels in zebrafish retina. Based on the amino acid sequence of mouse TERT, a full-length telomerase reverse transcriptase cDNA of zebrafish has been isolated and cloned. The deduced protein sequence contains 1,091 amino acid residues and a predicted molecular mass of 126 kDa. Multiple alignment shows that the protein sequence contains the conserved motifs and residues found in TERT of other species. RT-PCR and TRAP assay has detected TERT mRNA expression and telomerase activity, respectively, in all tissues examined, including the retina and the brain. The presence of telomerase activity indicates that a fully functional form of telomerase can be found in the retina. Immunohistochemistry reveals that most neurons in zebrafish retina express TERT in the cell nucleus. The presence of telomerase in different tissues may be associated with the indeterminate growth of teleost. However, teleost retinal neurons are post-mitotic and do not further divide under normal situation. The expression of telomerase activity and TERT in retina implies that telomerase has functions other than the elongation of telomere. These findings could provide new insights on telomerase function in the nervous system.

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