With only a few exceptions, the precursor cells representing the normal counterparts of human tumours are unknown. The comparative lack of information about the lineages involved in tissue development, and difficulties in growing many human tumors in a manner suitable for cellular biological analysis, together often make it difficult to study the differences between normal and tumor cells and to develop many of the model systems that would be useful in the study of human cancer. By applying techniques previously utilized to study glial progenitor cells, we have isolated a human glioblastoma multiforme (GBM)-derived population that expresses many properties otherwise uniquely expressed by oligodendrocyte-type-2 astrocyte (O-2A) progenitor cells. Hu-O-2A/Gb1 (for Human O-2A lineage Glioblastoma number 1) cells responded to similar mitogens and differentiation modulators as rodent O-2A progenitors, and generated cells with features of precursor cells, oligodendrocytes and astrocytes. Moreover, 1H-NMR analysis of amino acid composition demonstrated a striking conversation of types and quantities of free amino acids between the human tumour cells and the rodent primary cells. Hu-O-2A/Gb1 cells represent the first human glioma-derived population for which unambiguous lineage assignment has been possible, and our results indicate that the human O-2A lineage can contribute to one of the most malignant of glial tumours. In addition, the highly diagnostic 1H-NMR spectrum expressed by Hu-O-2A/Gb1 cells raises the possibility of eventual non-invasive identification of tumors of this lineage.