Transcriptional regulation of the TERT gene is a major cause of the cancer-specific increase in telomerase activity. Recently, frequent somatic mutations in the TERT promoter have been described in several tumor entities such as melanoma, glioblastoma, bladder cancer, and hepatocellular carcinoma. By generating a putative consensus binding site for ETS transcription factors within the TERT promoter, these mutations are predicted to increase promoter activity and TERT transcription. In order to improve the understanding of the role of TERT promoter mutation in liver tumorigenesis, the mutational status of the TERT promoter was analyzed in 78 hepatocellular carcinomas, 15 hepatocellular adenomas, and 52 intrahepatic cholangiocarciomas. The promoter region of TERT was screened for the two hotspot mutations using PCR and restriction fragment length analysis, utilizing the introduction of novel restriction sites by the somatic mutations. TERT promoter mutation was found in 37 of 78 hepatocellular carcinomas (47 %) and was restricted to the -124C>T mutation. Frequency of mutations was associated with grade of differentiation ranging from 39 % in well-differentiated tumors to 73 % in high-grade hepatocellular carcinomas. TERT promoter mutations were not found in 15 hepatocellular adenomas and 52 intrahepatic cholangiocarcinomas. These data show that TERT promoter mutation is the most frequent genetic alteration in hepatocellular carcinoma known at this time. The striking predominance of the -124C>T mutation compared with other tumor entities suggest a biological difference of the two hotspot mutations. Analysis of TERT promoter mutation might become a diagnostic tool distinguishing hepatocellular adenoma from well-differentiated hepatocellular carcinoma.