Normal human foreskin keratinocytes cotransfected with the neomycin resistance gene and recombinant human papillomavirus (HPV) DNAs (types 16, 18, 31, and 33) that have a high or moderate association with cervical malignancy acquired immortality and contained integrated and transcriptionally active viral genomes. Only transcripts from the intact E6 and E7 genes were detected in at least one cell line, suggesting that one or both of these genes are responsible for immortalization. Recombinant HPV DNAs with low or no oncogenic potential for cervical cancer (HPV1a, -5, -6b, and -11) induced small G418-resistant colonies that senesced as did the nontransfected cells. These colonies contained only episomal virus DNA; therefore, integration of HPV sequences is important for immortalization of keratinocytes. This study suggests that the virus-encoded immortalization function contributes to the pathogenesis of cervical carcinoma.