The true nature of nevocellular nevus is still unknown and it has been ambiguously classified as a neoplasm or a hamartoma. We studied the clonality of nevocellular nevus and melanoma (malignant melanoma), using an expression-based clonality analysis at the X-linked genes by means of polymerase chain reaction. DNA was extracted from cryostat sections of 20 nevocellular nevi (10 compound and 10 intradermal type) and five melanomas from female patients. A polymorphic portion of the inactivated X-linked gene was amplified after selective digestion of the active X-chromosome with a methylation-sensitive restriction enzyme, Hpa II. Paternal- and maternal-derived fragments were resolved with electrophoresis using the polymorphic restriction endonuclease (BstX I) site for the phosphoglycerate kinase assay, and using the difference of CAG repeats for the human androgen-receptor gene assay. Both assays revealed that all informative nevocellular nevi were polyclonal in origin and all melanomas were monoclonal. Results of the clonality were independent of either the histologic type of nevocellular nevus or whether the nevocellular nevus was of congenital or acquired origin. Thus, nevocellular nevus, congenital or acquired, may be a hamartomatous rather than a neoplastic lesion. The analysis of clonality could be applied to the differential diagnosis of benign melanocytic disease and melanomas.