The study of human papillomavirus type 16 (HPV-16) replication has been impaired because of the lack of a cell culture system that stably maintains viral replication. Recently, cervical epithelial cell populations that stably maintain HPV-16 replicons at a copy number of approximately 1,000 per cell were derived from an HPV-16-infected patient (W12 cell clone 20863 [W12-E cells]). We used neutral/neutral and neutral/alkaline two-dimensional gel electrophoretic techniques to characterize HPV-16 DNA replication in these cells. When W12-E cells were maintained in an undifferentiated state mimicking the nonproductive stage of the life cycle, HPV-16 DNA was found to replicate primarily by theta structures in a bidirectional manner. The initiation site of HPV-16 DNA replication was mapped to approximately nucleotide 100, and the termination site was mapped to between nucleotides 3398 and 5990. To study the productive stage of HPV-16 DNA replication, W12-E cells were grown under culture conditions that promote differentiation of epithelial cell types. Under these conditions, where virus-like particles were detected, the mode of viral DNA replication changed from theta structure to what is apparently a rolling circle mode. Additionally, CIN 612-9E cells, which were derived from an HPV-31-infected patient and harbor HPV-31 extrachromosomally, exhibited the same switch in the mode of DNA replication upon induction of differentiation. These data argue that a fundamental switch in the mechanism of viral DNA replication occurs during the life cycle of the papillomavirus.