Human keratinocyte immortality is genetically recessive to the normal phenotype of limited replicative lifespan and appears to require the dysfunction of p53 and the cyclin D-Cdk inhibitor p16. In order to test for the inactivation of other candidate replicative lifespan genes in the immortal cells of human tumors, we developed a series of mortal and immortal keratinocyte cultures derived from neoplastic lesions of the head and neck which were amenable to molecular genetic analysis by the loss of heterozygosity (LOH) technique. The results indicate that keratinocyte immortalization in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (SCC-HN) development involves the inactivation of at least two further pathways to senescence and four in all. Chromosomes 1, 4 and 7 carry genes representing immortality complementation groups C, B and D respectively and immortal keratinocytes showed LOH at either 4q32-q34 between D4S1554 and D4S171 (group B) or 7q31 (group D) but never 1q25 (group C). These results tentatively suggest that the genes responsible for the immortality complementation groups encode proteins on the same pathway to senescence. In addition, all of the immortal keratinocyte lines possessed high levels of telomerase activity and a suppressor of telomerase activity has been mapped to the short arm of chromosome 3p. Five out of eight lines showed LOH at 3p21.2-p21.3, a region which may carry a gene capable of suppressing SCC-HN telomerase. However, alternative mechanisms of telomerase reactivation were also suggested by our results. None of the above genetic alterations were seen in seven senescent neoplastic keratinocyte cultures. Other loci harbouring antiproliferative genes implicated in replicative lifespan showed few or no alterations and any alterations seen were additional to those described above.