Twenty-one head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) cell lines were established from 89 fresh tumor specimens in order to study the biology of HNSCC lines, establish tumors in nude mice, and evaluate the sensitivity to immunological effector cells of these tumors in vitro and in vivo in nude mice. The lines were established from explants using differential trypsinization and culture for 2 to 20 mo. The explants were derived from 11 different sites. Three pairs of lines were derived from both the primary tumor and metastatic lymph nodes in the same patients. All cultures grew as either compact or diffuse adherent monolayers, and they had a median doubling time of 86 h (range, 33 to 531 h). DNA fingerprinting confirmed that the HNSCC lines were individual isolates. Thirteen of 14 lines tested induced tumors in athymic mice. The histology of each line growing in nude mice was similar to that of the original tumor tissue. Immunocytochemistry showed keratin production in all lines tested. Aneuploidy (36 to 87 chromosomes) was present in all 16 lines studied; the median chromosome number for lines derived from primary tumors was 70, whereas for lines originating from metastatic or recurrent tumors, it was 54. Karyotypic analysis showed deletion of the short arm of chromosome 3 (3p-) in 12 of 16 cell lines and trisomy 6 in 12 of 16 lines. In addition, translocations between chromosomes 9 and 11 or 9 and 12 were each present in five of 16 lines tested. The HNSCC lines were resistant to lysis by natural killer cells, but were efficiently lysed by lymphokine-activated killer cells in 4-h 51Cr release assays. These new lines have allowed us to establish a model of local adoptive immunotherapy of HNSCC in tumor-bearing nude mice, and they provide a resource for future studies of the biology of HNSCC.