Cancer cell lines are used worldwide in biological research, and data interpretation depends on unambiguous attribution of the respective cell line to its original source. Short-tandem-repeat (STR) profiling (DNA fingerprinting) is the method of choice for this purpose; however, the genetic stability of cell lines under various experimental conditions is not well defined. We tested the effect of long-term culture, subcloning, and generation of drug-resistant subclones on fingerprinting profiles in four widely used leukemia cell lines. The DNA fingerprinting profile remained unaltered in two of them (U937 and K562) throughout 12 months in culture, and the vast majority of subclones derived therefrom by limiting dilution after long-term culture revealed the same profile, indicating a high degree of stability and clonotypic homogeneity. In contrast, two other cell lines (CCRF-CEM and Jurkat) showed marked alterations in DNA fingerprinting profiles during long-term culture. Limiting dilution subcloning revealed extensive clonotypic heterogeneity with subclones differing in up to eight STR loci from the parental culture. Similar heterogeneity was observed in subclones generated by selection culture for drug resistance where DNA fingerprinting proved useful in identifying possible resistance mechanisms. Thus, common tissue culture procedures may dramatically affect the fingerprinting profile of certain cell lines and thus render definition of their origin difficult.