Two isolates of the EBV-LMP1 gene were compared for their ability to induce phenotypic changes in a non-tumorigenic human keratinocyte line, Rhek-1, immortalized with an adenovirus 12-SV40 hybrid virus. One isolate, designated B-LMP1, was derived from B95-8, a B-cell line of marmoset origin, that carries a viral strain from a mononucleosis patient. The other, designated C-LMP1, originated from a nude mouse passaged Chinese NPC tumor, CAO. Both types of transfectants were less serum dependent than the non-transfected and the vector-transfected controls. The ability to grow on low serum increased with increasing LMP1 expression. All transfectants were more highly clonable than the non-transfected or vector-transfected controls. Clonability in soft agarose increased with increasing LMP1 expression. Nine of 24 C-LMP1 transfectants produced tumors in SCID mice. Seven of them grew invasively into the surrounding tissue. Only one of 12 B-LMP1 transfected Rhek-1 clones was tumorigenic. It did not grow invasively. All tumorigenic transfectants expressed LMP1 at high or moderate levels. All tumors were found to express LMP1. Transfectants with low LMP1 expression did not produce tumors. The untransfected Rhek-1 cells and six vector control clones failed to produce tumors.