We have established a series of 20 colorectal cancer cell lines and performed cytogenetic and RFLP analyses to show that the recurrent genetic abnormalities of chromosomes 1, 5, 17 and 18 associated with multistep tumorigenesis in colorectal cancer, and frequently detected as recurrent abnormalities in primary tumours, are also retained in long-term established cell lines. Earlier studies by us and other investigators showed that allelic losses of chromosomes 1 and 17 in primary colorectal cancers predicted poorer survival for the patients (P = 0.03). We utilized the cell lines to identify specific chromosomal sites or gene(s) on chromosomes 1 and 17 which confer more aggressive phenotype. Cytogenetic deletions of chromosome 1p were detected in 14 out of the 20 (70%) cell lines, whereas allelic deletions for 1p using polymorphic markers were detected in 13 out of 18 (72%) informative cell lines for at least one polymorphic marker. We have performed Northern blotting, immunohistochemical staining (p53 mRNA, protein) and RFLP analysis using several probes including p53 and nm23. RFLP analysis using a total of seven polymorphic markers located on 17p and 17q arms showed allelic losses aroundthe p53 locus in 16 out of the 20 cell lines (80%), four of which were losses of thep53 locus itself. In addition, seven cell lines (out of nine informative cases) also showed losses of thenm23 gene, four with concurrent losses of thep53 locus, while the remaining three were homozygous. In addition, five out of seven cell lines withnm23 deletions were derived from hepatic metastatic tumours, and one cell line was obtained from recurrent tumour. A comparison between allelic deletions of 1p and functional loss ofnm23 gene revealed a close association between these two events in cell lines derived from hepatic metastasis. Following immunohistochemical staining, nine out of the twenty cell lines showed high levels (25–80%) of mutant p53, four showed intermediate levels (>20%), and seven had undetectable levels of the protein. Of these seven, four showed complete absence of mRNA. Of the remaining three cell lines one showed aberrant mRNA due to germline rearrangement of thep53 gene, whereas in two cell lines normal levels of mRNA were present. Nineteen of the 20 cell lines had normal germline configurations for thep53 gene, while one showed a rearrangement. These data suggest that functional loss ofp53 andnm23 genes accomplished by a variety of mechanisms may be associated with poor prognosis and survival. In addition, concurrent deletions of chromosome regions 17p, 17q and 1p were closely associated with high-stage hepatic metastatic disease. These cell lines with well-characterized genetic alterations and known clinical history provide an invaluable source of material for various biological and clinical studies relating to multistep colorectal tumorigenesis.