Polyacrylamide is used widely in industry, and its decomposition product, acrylamide (ACR), readily finds its way into commonly consumed cosmetics and baked and fried foods. ACR exerts potent neurotoxic effects in human and animal models. Telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT), the catalytic subunit of telomerase, traditionally has been considered to play an important role in maintaining telomere length. Emerging evidence has shown, however, that TERT plays an important role in neuroprotection by inhibiting apoptosis and excitotoxicity, and by promoting angiogenesis, neuronal survival and neurogenesis, which are closely related to the telomere-independent functions of TERT. We investigated whether and how the TERT pathway is involved in ACR induced neurotoxicity in rat cortical neurons. We found that ACR 1) significantly reduced the viability of cortical neurons as measured by MTT assay, 2) induced neuron apoptosis as revealed by FITC-conjugated Annexin V/PI double staining and flow cytometry (FACS) analysis, 3) elevated expression of cleaved caspase-3, and 4) decreased bcl-2 expression of cortical neurons. ACR also increased intracellular ROS levels in cortical neurons, increased MDA levels and reduced GSH, SOD and GSH-Px levels in mitochondria in a dose-dependent manner. We found that TERT expression in mitochondria was increased by ACR at concentrations of 2.5 and 5.0 mM, but TERT expression was decreased by 10 mM ACR. Telomerase activity, however, was undetectable in rat cortical neurons. Our results suggest that the TERT pathway is involved in ACR induced apoptosis of cortical neurons. TERT also may exert its neuroprotective role in a telomerase activity-independent way, especially in mitochondria.