Normal and SV40-infected human fibroblasts were grown in the presence of the drug N-(phosphonoacetyl)-L-aspartate (PALA) and examined for evidence of genetic instability. Both cell populations were precrisis and showed a normal, diploid karyotype at early passage. In contrast to the normal IMR-90 cells, which showed growth arrest and did not form colonies in PALA, the SV40-infected IMR-90 cells formed colonies at a very high frequency and continued to cycle in the drug. The drug-resistant colonies senesced after continued growth in culture, indicating that this change in ability to amplify preceded immortalization. This is the first observation of mortal human cells overcoming the drug-induced growth arrest. Although all previously isolated PALA-resistant colonies demonstrated CAD gene amplification as the mechanism of the drug-resistant phenotype, these SV40-infected human cells also showed alternative mechanisms, including increases in gene copy number by aneuploidy and formation of an isochromosome 2p.