cDNA microarrays were utilized to identify abnormally expressed genes in a malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor (MPNST)-derived cell line, T265, by comparing the mRNA abundance profiles with that of normal human Schwann cells (nhSCs). The findings characterize the molecular phenotype of this important cell-line model of MPNSTs, and elucidate the contribution of Schwann cells in MPNSTs. In total, 4608 cDNA sequences were screened and hybridizations replicated on custom cDNA microarrays. In order to verify the microarray data, a large selection of differentially expressed mRNA transcripts were subjected to semi-quantitative reverse transcription PCR (LightCycler). Western blotting was performed to investigate a selection of genes and signal transduction pathways, as a further validation of the microarray data. The data generated from multiple microarray screens, semi-quantitative RT-PCR and Western blotting are in broad agreement. This study represents a comprehensive gene-expression analysis of an MPNST-derived cell line and the first comprehensive global mRNA profile of nhSCs in culture. This study has identified ~900 genes that are expressed abnormally in the T265 cell line and detected many genes not previously reported to be expressed in nhSCs. The results provide crucial information on the T265 cells that is essential for investigation using this cell line in experimental studies in neurofibromatosis type I (NF1), and important information on normal human Schwann cells that is applicable to a wide range of studies on Schwann cells in cell culture.