Hybrids between immortal cells that express telomerase and normal cells that lack telomerase have a limited lifespan. We demonstrate that telomerase is repressed in such hybrids. Treatment of immortal human cell lines with certain oligonucleotides resulted in telomere elongation. We took advantage of this observation to test the hypothesis that elongation of telomeres would extend the lifespan of cells in culture. An immortal human cell line was treated with an oligonucleotide to lengthen its telomeres and then was fused with mortal cells. The lifespan of these hybrid cells was longer than that of the hybrids in which telomeres had not been elongated. These observations provide the first direct evidence supporting the hypothesis that telomere length determines proliferative capacity of human cells.