Telomerase is a multicomponent reverse transcriptase enzyme that adds DNA repeats to the ends of chromosomes using its RNA component as a template for synthesis. Telomerase activity is detected in the germline as well as the majority of tumors and immortal cell lines, and at low levels in several types of normal cells. We have cloned a human gene homologous to a protein from Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Euplotes aediculatus that has reverse transcriptase motifs and is thought to be the catalytic subunit of telomerase in those species. This gene is present in the human genome as a single copy sequence with a dominant transcript of approximately 4 kb in a human colon cancer cell line, LIM1215. The cDNA sequence was determined using clones from a LIM1215 cDNA library and by RT-PCR, cRACE and 3'RACE on mRNA from the same source. We show that the gene is expressed in several normal tissues, telomerase-positive post-crisis (immortal) cell lines and various tumors but is not expressed in the majority of normal tissues analyzed, pre-crisis (non-immortal) cells and telomerase-negative immortal (ALT) cell lines. Multiple products were identified by RT-PCR using primers within the reverse transcriptase domain. Sequencing of these products suggests that they arise by alternative splicing. Strikingly, various tumors, cell lines and even normal tissues (colonic crypt and testis) showed considerable differences in the splicing patterns. Alternative splicing of the telomerase catalytic subunit transcript may be important for the regulation of telomerase activity and may give rise to proteins with different biochemical functions.