Five established cell lines derived from human anaplastic astrocytomas or glioblastoma multiforme were tested for invasiveness into precultured chick heart fragments in vitro. Four of the cell lines (U118 MG, D54 MG, U373 MG and A172) were strongly invasive into the heart tissue. A fifth cell line, U251 MG sp, which was only tumorigenic at doses of greater than 1 X 10(8) cells in athymic mice, was non-invasive in vitro. One line, A172, was invasive but not tumorigenic in athymic mice, although a related invasive subline, D54 MG, at later passage levels was tumorigenic even at low cell doses. Invasion of the glioma cells was characterized by progressive and irreversible replacement of the precultured chick heart tissue. Both by light and transmission electron microscopy, a similar pattern of invasion was observed as earlier found with experimental rat glioma cells in the same system. Some human cell lines established from human gliomas retain invasive properties after a prolonged culture period in vitro.