Telomerase is a ribonucleoprotein complex that maintains chromosomal telomere homeostasis and underlies continuous renewal of stem cells and immortalization of neoplastic cells. Telomerase is down-regulated during cell differentiation, but the mechanisms of down-regulation are largely unknown. Here, we examined roles of mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase and phosphatidylinositol-3 (PI3) kinase signalling pathways in telomerase down-regulation triggered by nerve growth factor (NGF), and the role of telomerase down-regulation in NGF-induced neural differentiation in PC12 cells. We report that NGF-induced telomerase down-regulation requires MAP kinase signalling. While mutations of all putative Akt phosphorylation sites in telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) has no effect on telomerase activity, inhibition of MAP kinase signalling by PD98059 or U0126 abolishes NGF-induced telomerase down-regulation in a concentration-dependent manner. Reversal of NGF-induced telomerase down-regulation by TERT overexpression does not prevent NGF-induced neural differentiation. Down-regulation of telomerase by silencing TERT gene expression does not trigger cell differentiation in the absence of NGF, nor enhances NGF-induced differentiation. Thus, telomerase, withdraws by a mechanism at TERT gene transcription level involving MAP kinase signalling while cells cease proliferation and undergo differentiation. The withdrawal of telomerase is not required to mediate NGF-induced PC12 cell differentiation and re-establishment of telomerase activity at significant levels does not inhibit differentiation.