Activation of telomerase and stabilization of telomeres are thought to be required for both cellular immortality and oncogenesis. Three major components of human telomerase, human telomerase RNA (hTR), telomerase-associated protein (TP1/TLP1), and human telomerase catalytic subunit (hTRT/hEST2), have been identified recently. However, it remains unclear what roles these subunits play in the regulation of telomerase activity. In the present study, a total of 25 cervical cancers and 14 normal cervices as well as various cell lines derived from cervical cancer were examined for the expression of hTR, TP1 mRNA, and hTRT mRNA, and the correlations between expression of these and telomerase activity were evaluated in 23 cancers and 14 normal cervices. Reverse transcription-PCR analysis revealed that hTR and TP1 mRNA were commonly expressed in cancers and noncancerous tissues. However, hTRT mRNA was observed only in cervical cancers and cell lines, and more than 80% of cervical cancers expressed it, whereas neither normal cervical tissues nor normal primary fibroblast cells did. There was a strong correlation of telomerase activity with hTRT mRNA expression but not with TP1 or hTR expression. Cervical exfoliated cells were subjected to reverse transcription-PCR analysis for detection of hTRT mRNA, and approximately 70% of cervical cancers were positive for such expression. These findings provide strong evidence that expression of hTRT is a rate-limiting determinant of the enzymatic activity of human telomerase and that up-regulation of hTRT expression may play a critical role in human carcinogenesis. Our findings also indicate that detection of hTRT mRNA is useful for cytological screening for cervical cancer.