We recently demonstrated that (1) telomerase catalytic subunit messenger RNA (mRNA) relative quantities increase progressively with the degree of laryngeal epithelial abnormalities and that (2) telomerase catalytic subunit gene re-expression represents an early event in laryngeal carcinogenesis. The aim of the study was to determine whether telomerase catalytic protein immunohistochemisty reflects telomerase catalytic subunit gene expression in different grades of laryngeal epithelial abnormalities and squamous cell carcinomas of the larynx. Telomerase catalytic protein was analysed immunohistochemically in 106 laryngeal epithelial tissue samples: 10 normal epithelia, 15 squamous cell hyperplasias, 14 basal/parabasal cell hyperplasias, 10 atypical hyperplasias, eight intraepithelial carcinomas and 49 squamous cell carcinomas. At least 200 nuclei of each lesion were quantified per slide and the number of positive signals per nucleus was expressed as a telomerase catalytic protein index. The mean telomerase catalytic protein index increased progressively with the degree of laryngeal epithelial abnormalities: from 0.17 in normal epithelia, 0.44 in squamous cell hyperplasia, 0.54 in basal/parabasal cell hyperplasia, 0.91 in atypical hyperplasia, 1.05 in intraepithelial carcinoma to 0.96 in squamous cell carcinomas. Statistical analysis revealed three different groups of laryngeal epithelial changes according to the number of telomerase catalytic protein signals per nucleus: (1) normal epithelium, (2) regenerative epithelium (squamous cell hyperplasia, basal/parabasal cell hyperplasia), and (3) atypical hyperplasia, intraepithelial carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma (P<0.0033). Telomerase catalytic protein immunohistochemistry parallels well with telomerase catalytic subunit mRNA relative quantities in laryngeal carcinogenesis. In normal and regenerative laryngeal epithelia, telomerase catalytic protein is present in occasional basal/parabasal nuclei, becomes undetectable with maturation or differentiation of epithelial cells, and reflects the regenerative capacity of squamous epithelium. Nevertheless, several telomerase catalytic protein signals in the majority of nuclei in precancerous lesions, intraepithelial carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas, are consistent with telomerase catalytic subunit gene re-expression, an early event in laryngeal carcinogenesis.