The study of functioning human endocrine tumors has been hampered by a lack of suitable in vitro models. We have established the first permanent cell line of a human pancreatic carcinoid tumor (BON) in culture. BON cells grow in monolayer culture and form colonies in soft agar. Injection of BON cells into nude mice produces transplantable tumors in a dose-dependent fashion. The histology of tumors in athymic mice from injection of dispersed, cultured BON cells is similar to the original histology of the resected tumor. Significant amounts of neurotensin, pancreastatin, and serotonin (5-HT) are demonstrated in the cells by radioimmunoassay (RIA) and the presence of chromogranin A, bombesin, and 5-HT is confirmed by immunocytochemistry. Numerous round and pleomorphic dense-core neurosecretory granules are present on electron microscopy. Functional receptors for acetylcholine, 5-HT, isoproterenol, and somatostatin are present on cultured cells. BON cells possess a specific transport system for uptake of 5-HT from the medium; this uptake system may be a route for regulation of autocrine effects of 5-HT on carcinoid cells. This unique human carcinoid tumor cell line should provide the opportunity for new insight into the biology of carcinoid tumors and of specific intracellular mechanisms for secretagogue action in the release of amines and peptides.