Telomerase, regulated primarily by the transcription of its catalytic subunit telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT), is critical for controlling cell proliferation and tissue homeostasis by maintaining telomere length. Although there is a high conservation between human and mouse TERT genes, the regulation of their transcription is significantly different in these two species. Whereas mTERT expression is widely detected in adult mice, hTERT is expressed at extremely low levels in most adult human tissues and cells. As a result, mice do not exhibit telomere-mediated replicative aging, but telomere shortening is a critical factor of human aging and its stabilization is essential for cancer development in humans. The chromatin environment and epigenetic modifications of the hTERT locus, the binding of transcriptional factors to its promoter, and recruitment of nucleosome modifying complexes all play essential roles in restricting its transcription in different cell types. In this review, we will discuss recent progress in understanding the molecular mechanisms of TERT regulation in human and mouse tissues and cells, and during cancer development.
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