For the cancer cells which have overcome the second mitotic clock (M2), activated telomerase is essential and used as another marker of immortality. Many trials had been initiated to target telomerase, which is known to be specific to tumors. To determine the best in vitro cell system for testing the efficacy of telomerase inhibitors, we evaluated the telomerase activity of various cancer cell lines and measured their telomere lengths. We also treated some cancer cell lines with adriamycin and measured the changes of telomerase activity. Telomerase activity was evaluated in various cell lines with the TRAP (telomeric repeat amplification protocol) assay. Telomerase activity was calculated and translated into arbitrary units by computer-assisted densitometry with the control of telomerase activity in the 293 control cell line. Also, terminal restriction fragment lengths were measured using Southern blotting. We also measured telomerase activity and telomere lengths in 11 benign breast tumor tissues and 19 paired stomach cancer and normal tissues. Cancer cell lines treated with adriamycin we evaluated for changes of telomerase activity and the cell proliferation by MTT assay and dye exclusion test. Telomerase activity of cell lines was 95.3 24.1 unit with a range of 27.6-129.6 unit, while the telomere lengths of those cell lines were variable from 5.0 to 10.4 kbp with a median of 6 kbp. In 11 cancer cell lines which were not yet firmly established, we could not detect any telomerase activity. Low telomerase activity was detected in only 2 benign tumor tissues of breast with a median telomere length of 8.8 (7-10.5) kbp. Among paired 19 gastric cancer and normal tissues, only 7 cancer tissues showed weak telomerase activity. After adriamycin treatment, telomerase activity in YCC-S-1, YCC-S-3, MCF-7 and MCF-7/ADR was decreased in accordance with the changes of the cell numbers. Telomerase is specific to cancer tissues and is expressed differently from organ to organ. Telomerase activity by TRAP assay could be used as a chemosensitivity assay.