Clonal chromosomal abnormalities were characterized in nine cell lines established from squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck. Aneuploidy was a common feature; one cell line was near-diploid, three were near-triploid, four were near-tetraploid, and one cell line showed extensive variation in chromosome numbers. Consistent numerical abnormalities included loss of the sex chromosomes in six cell lines, losses of chromosomes 2 and 21 in six and five cell lines, respectively, and gain of chromosome 20 in five cell lines. Recurrent structural rearrangements included del(10)(q22-q26) (seven cell lines), i(5)(p10) (six cell lines), i(8)(q10) (six cell lines), add(19)(q13) (six cell lines), del(4)(q21-q31.3) (five cell lines), i(3)(q10) (four cell lines), del(12)(p11.1-p12) (four cell lines), and add (18)(q21-q23) (four cell lines). Other changes were noted in lower frequencies. Loss of specific regions on chromosomes 2, 3p, 4q, 5q, 8p, 10q, 12p, 18q, 19q, and 21 suggests that they may represent sites of putative tumor suppressor genes, loss of which may play a role in the pathogenesis of squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck. Alternatively, gain of chromosomal region 3q, 5p, and 8q due to isochromosome formation suggests that more than one mechanism is involved in malignant transformation. Cytogenetic evidence of gene amplification was found in two cell lines; as an hsr(11)(q13) in one and as dmins in the other. The clonal karyotypes of four cell lines were compared with those of their respective primary tumors. In all cell lines, clonal evolution had occurred, with loss of some rearrangements present in the primary tumors or the gain of additional abnormalities.