Telomerase activation is thought to be essential for cellular immortality and oncogenesis. It is observed in most malignant tumors but not in most normal somatic tissues. Normal human endometrium is, however, known to express significant telomerase activity in a menstrual phase-dependent manner. The 3 major subunits composing telomerase have been identified. Using normal and malignant endometrial tissues, we studied how these components are involved in telomerase activation. A total of 23 endometrial cancers and 32 normal human endometria in various menstrual phases as well as cell lines derived from endometrial cancer were examined for the expression of each telomerase subunit using RT-PCR analysis. Telomerase activity in each sample was determined by the TRAP assay, and the correlation between subunit expression and telomerase activity was examined. RT-PCR analysis revealed that telomerase RNA (hTR) and telomerase-associated protein (TP1) mRNA were constitutively expressed in both normal and malignant endometrial tissues. Expression of human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT) mRNA was observed in most endometrial cancers, while that in normal endometrium depended on the phases of menstrual cycles. Proliferative phase normal endometria expressed hTERT mRNA, while secretory phase endometria did not. There was a strong association between telomerase activity and hTERT expression but not TP1 or hTR expression in both normal and tumor tissues. Five telomerase-positive endometrial cancer cell lines expressed each of the telomerase subunits including hTERT, while 2 telomerase-negative normal primary fibroblast cells expressed TP1 mRNA and hTR, but not hTERT mRNA. Our findings suggest that hTERT is a rate-limiting determinant of enzymatic activity of human telomerase. Since some normal tissues with high regenerative potential can express hTERT, special attention should be paid to the clinical use of hTERT inhibitors as anti-cancer drugs.