The study of human microvascular endothelial cells has been limited, because these cells are difficult to isolate in pure culture, are fastidious in their in vitro growth requirements, and have a very limited lifespan. In order to overcome these difficulties, we have transfected human dermal microvascular endothelial cells (HMEC) with a PBR-322-based plasmid containing the coding region for the simian virus 40 A gene product, large T antigen, and succeeded in immortalizing them. These cells, termed CDC/EU.HMEC-1 (HMEC-1), have been passaged 95 times to date and show no signs of senescence, whereas normal microvascular endothelial cells undergo senescence at passages 8-10. HMEC-1 exhibit typical cobblestone morphology when grown in monolayer culture, express and secrete von Willebrand's Factor, take up acteylated low-density lipoprotein, and rapidly form tubes when cultured on matrigel. HMEC-1 grow to densities three to seven times higher than microvascular endothelial cells and require much less stringent growth medium. HMEC-1 will grow in the absence of human serum, whereas microvascular endothelial cells require culture medium supplemented with 30% human serum. These cells express other cell-surface molecules typically associated with endothelial cells, including CD31 and CD36 and epitopes identified by monoclonal antibodies EN4 and PAL-E. They also express the cell adhesion molecules ICAM-1 and CD44 and following stimulation with interferon-gamma express major histocompatibility complex class II antigens. HMEC-1 specifically bind lymphocytes in cell adhesion assays. Thus HMEC-1 is the first immortalized human microvascular endothelial cell line that retains the morphologic, phenotypic, and functional characteristics of normal human microvascular endothelial cells.