Topical application of 7,12-dimethylbenz(alpha)-anthracene induces tumors in the hamster cheek pouch. Telomerase activity is increased in the cancer tissues if compared to normal adjacent tissues in both human and hamster oral cancer. In order to achieve a probe and to investigate the putative role of telomerase in oral carcinogenesis using the hamster cheek pouch model, we have cloned the cDNA encoding the hamster telomerase catalytic subunit (hamTERT). The hamster TERT cDNA encoded 1128 amino acids and shared 64% amino acid identity with human TERT and 80% with murine TERT. As noted with human TERT which express several alternatively spliced mRNAs, we have also detected one alternatively spliced hamTERT mRNA in hamster cancer cells. Transient transfection of hamTERT cDNA in a retroviral expression vector reconstituted telomerase activity in the telomerase negative human lung fibroblast IMR90 cells.