Background: Telomerase consists of two essential subunits, the template RNA (TR; telomerase RNA) and the catalytic subunit TERT (telomerase reverse transcriptase). Knockout mice with a mTR (mouse TR) deletion have been described and well characterized. However, mice with a mTERT (mouse TERT) deletion have not been reported.
Results: mTERT-knockout mice have been constructed. The first generation mTERT -/- mice were fertile, and did not show any noticeable macroscopic or microscopic phenotypic change. All tissue cells derived from mTERT -/- mice that were examined lacked telomerase activity, indicating that mTERT is the only gene encoding the telomerase catalytic subunit. Pulse field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and nondenaturing in-gel hybridization analyses showed that mouse telomeric DNA has G-strand 5'-overhangs, as demonstrated for human and yeast cells. This telomeric single-stranded G-tail was also observed in MEF (mouse embryonic fibroblast) and liver cells derived from mTERT -/- mice.
Conclusions: mTERT-knockout mice show phenotypes that are apparently normal at least during the early generations. This observation is similar to that obtained with the mTR-knockout mice. The presence of the telomeric G-strand tails in mTERT -/- mice suggests that these telomeric 5'-overhangs are produced by telomerase-independent mechanisms, as has been proposed for yeast and human.