• avian;
  • development;
  • embryo;
  • telomerase;
  • telomere

Telomeres are the termini of linear chromosomes composed of tandem repeats of a conserved DNA sequence. Telomerase provides a mechanism for proliferating cells to offset telomeric sequence erosion by synthesizing new repeats onto the end of each parental DNA strand. Reduced or absent telomerase activity can lead to telomere shortening and genome instability. Telomeres and telomerase have not previously been characterized during ontogeny of any avian species. In the present study, telomerase activity in the chicken model was examined from early differentiation embryos through to adulthood. Telomerase activity was detected in all early embryos (preblastula through neurula) and in tissues throughout organogenesis. Subsequently, telomerase was downregulated in the majority of somatic tissues, either pre- or postnatally. A subset of tissues, such as intestine, immune and reproductive organs, exhibited constitutive activity. The impact of telomerase downregulation on telomere length was investigated and a telomere reduction of 3.2 kb in somatic tissues compared with germ line was observed in 5-year-old adults. The present results suggest that the telomere clock function is a conserved feature of avians as well as mammals. Knowledge regarding the relationships among telomerase regulation, proliferation/senescence profiles and differentiation status will be useful for numerous applications of chicken cells.