A new human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cell line with a highly metastatic potential was established from subcutaneous xenograft of a metastatic model of human HCC in nude mice (LCI-D20) by means of alternating cell culture in vitro and growth in nude mice. The line, designated MHCC97, has been cultivated for 18 months and subcultured for more than 90 passages. The line was showed to be of human origin by karyotype analysis. The cells were either grown as compact colonies (in clusters) or as a monolayered sheet with about 31 h of population-doubling time, exhibited typical malignant epithelial in morphology and were positive for alpha-fetoprotein (AFP). Flow cytometric analysis of the cell DNA content showed an aneuploid pattern, and its index was 1.5 as compared to that of normal human peripheral blood lymphocytes. Karyotypic analyses of G- and C-banding techniques revealed that all cells presented chromosome abnormalities in number and structure. The number of cell line MHCC97 chromosome ranged from 59 to 65 with a modal number of 60 and 61. At least two common chromosome markers, i(1q) and der(4)t(4;?)(4pter-->q35::?), were present in all cells, and deletion of Y chromosome also occurred in all cells. The subcutaneous and intrahepatic xenografts were formed and metastatic lesions in lungs were found after the cells were inoculated into nude mice. The rate of metastasis to lungs was 100% using orthotopic inoculation. Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction products revealed positive expressions of integrin alpha5 and beta1, urokinase type plasminogen activator receptor (uPAR), vascular endothelial growth factor and nm23-H1 mRNAs of cell line MHCC97. Immunostaining of c-Met, uPAR showed strongly positive in both subcutaneous xenografts and lung metastatic lesions; while positive in xenografts and negative in metastatic lesions for integrin alpha5, beta1. E-cadherin and P53 was not expressed either in xenograft or in the metastatic lesions. PCR products of HBsAg and HBxAg were both positive. The cell line MHCC97 still retained some characteristic features of original tumour. Establishment of cell line MHCC97 should be beneficial to the studies of HCC metastatic mechanisms.