Telomerase activity is present at low levels in peripheral lymphocytes (PL) and is upregulated upon activation, possibly protecting PL from telomere shortening. As decreased telomere length is considered a sign of cellular senescence, telomerase may, therefore, play an important role on immune function, organ regeneration and carcinogenesis. So far, quantification of human telomerase reverse transcriptase levels (hTERT) in PL, has not been reported. We determined hTERT mRNA levels in PL of hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) patients, in an attempt to address whether hTERT transcripts in PL are altered in these viral diseases, which are characterized by immune dysfunction and increased incidence of hepatocarcinogenesis. hTERT mRNA levels in PL of HBV (n = 17), HCV (n = 24) patients and healthy controls (n = 22) were quantified by real-time polymerase chain reaction. We observed significantly lower hTERT mRNA levels in HBV and HCV patients compared with healthy individuals (P < 0.05). hTERT mRNA levels were not associated with the patients' clinical status (inactive, hepatitis and cirrhosis). Also no correlation was observed between hTERT mRNA expression, and HBV and HCV replicative activity. In the inactive group (n = 18) we observed a negative correlation between hTERT mRNA expression and disease duration (rs = -0.52, P < 0.03). We performed for the first time an accurate quantification of hTERT mRNA expression in PL of HBV and HCV patients. The observed low levels of hTERT mRNA expression in the above patients may suggest its involvement in the immunopathogenesis of chronic viral hepatitis.