Recently, shortened telomere length and increased telomerase activity have been demonstrated in various human cancers. In the study reported here, we ascertained whether gene changes are characteristic of pancreatic cancers. Hamster duct carcinomas and cell lines were investigated by Southern blot analysis for telomere restriction fragment (TRF) length and by the telomeric repeat amplification protocol (TRAP) assay for telomerase activity. Comparison with normal pancreas and spleen revealed shortened TRF length and markedly increased telomerase activity in primary pancreatic duct carcinomas induced by the rapid-production model as well as in a transplantable carcinoma and the cell lines. The enzyme level was 86.0-215.7 times the low levels found in control pancreas and spleen tissues. Late-passage Syrian hamster embryo cells, known to be immortalized and tumorigenic, had shorter TRFs than the original cells in primary culture did. These results indicate that hamster pancreatic duct carcinoma cells are immortalized, with the potential for proliferation ad infinitum, and provide a model for basic therapeutic research into the substances targeting telomerase.