Differential regulation of telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) contributes to the distinct aging and tumorigenic processes in humans and mice. Here, we report that the hTERT gene was strongly repressed during differentiation of human cells, whereas modest mTERT expression was detected in terminally differentiated and post-mitotic cells. The stringent hTERT repression depended on the native chromatin environment because transiently transfected hTERT promoters were not repressed in differentiated cells. Conversely, the transiently transfected mTERT core promoter was repressed during cell differentiation, suggesting that the repression of mTERT promoter did not require its endogenous chromatin structures. To understand the mechanisms of this differential regulation, we examined chromatin structures of the endogenous TERT loci during cell differentiation. In both human and mouse cells, repression was accompanied by the loss of multiple DNase I hypersensitive sites at the TERT promoters and their upstream regions, revealing positions of potential regulatory elements. Interestingly, the hTERT locus was located within a nuclease-resistant chromatin domain in human cells, whereas a corresponding chromatin domain was not detected for the mTERT locus. Taken together, our study indicated that, unlike the repression of mTERT gene, the condensed native chromatin environment of hTERT locus was central to its silencing during cell differentiation.
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