The ends of human chromosomes are protected from the degradation associated with cell division by 15-20 kb long segments of hexameric repeats of 5′-TTAGGG-3′ termed telomeres. In normal cells telomeres lose up to 300 bp of DNA per cell division that ultimately leads to senescence; however, most cancer cells bypass this lifespan restriction through the expression of telomerase. hTERT, the catalytic subunit essential for the proper function of telomerase, has been shown to be expressed in approximately 90% of all cancers. In this study we investigated the hTERT inhibiting effects of (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), the major polyphenol found in green tea catechins, in MCF-7 breast cancers cells and HL60 promyelocytic leukemia cells. Exposure to EGCG reduced cellular proliferation and induced apoptosis in both MCF-7 and HL60 cells in vitro, although hTERT mRNA expression was decreased only in MCF-7 cells when treated with EGCG. Furthermore, down-regulation of hTERT gene expression in MCF-7 cells appeared to be largely due to epigenetic alterations. Treatment of MCF-7 cells with EGCG resulted in a time-dependent decrease in hTERT promoter methylation and ablated histone H3 Lys9 acetylation. In conjunction with demethylation, further analysis showed an increase in hTERT repressor E2F-1 binding at the promoter. From these findings, we propose that EGCG is effective in causing cell death in both MCF-7 and HL60 cancer cell lines and may work through different pathways involving both anti-oxidant effects and epigenetic modulation. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.