Deregulation of telomerase, a ribonucleoprotein polymerase that compensates progressive loss of telomeric (TTAGGG)n repeats during DNA replication, has been suggested to facilitate tumorigenesis and cellular immortality by providing unlimited proliferation capacity for cancer cells. We investigated the relationship between tumor proliferation activity and in situ expression of the telomerase RNA component in 46 human grade I to IV astrocytomas. Heterogeneously distributed telomerase RNA expression was detected from all of the tumor samples as well as from normal human brain tissue. However, expression of telomerase RNA was significantly increased in highly malignant tumors (P = 0.024) and in tumors that showed increased proliferation activity determined by MIB-1 immunohistochemistry (P = 0.014). Interestingly, increased telomerase RNA levels were observed in a subgroup of grade II astrocytomas that showed significant increase in proliferation activity (P = 0.047), indicating that the telomerase RNA component is up-regulated already in early states of astrocytoma malignancy. Telomeric repeats amplification assays revealed telomerase activity in 4 of 6 glioblastomas and in 1 rapidly proliferating grade II astrocytoma. These results suggest that increased tumor proliferation activity triggers telomerase activation via mechanisms that involve increased production of the telomerase RNA component.