Reduced replicative capacity is a consistent characteristic of cells derived from patients with Werner syndrome. This premature senescence is phenotypically similar to replicative senescence observed in normal cell strains and includes altered cell morphology and gene expression patterns. Telomeres shorten with in vitro passaging of both WRN and normal cell strains; however, the rate of shortening has been reported to be faster in WRN cell strains, and the length of telomeres in senescent WRN cells appears to be longer than that observed in normal strains, leading to the suggestion that senescence in WRN cell strains may not be exclusively associated with telomere effects. We report here that the telomere restriction fragment length in senescent WRN fibroblasts cultures is within the size range observed for normal fibroblasts strains and that the expression of a telomerase transgene in WRN cell strains results in lengthened telomeres and replicative immortalization, thus indicating that telomere effects are the predominant trigger of premature senescence in WRN cells. Microarray analyses showed that mRNA expression patterns induced in senescent WRN cells appeared similar to those in normal strains and that hTERT expression could prevent the induction of most of these genes. However, substantial differences in expression were seen in comparisons of early-passage and telomerase-immortalized derivative lines, indicating that telomerase expression does not prevent the phenotypic drift, or destabilized genotype, resulting from the WRN defect.