The biological and molecular characteristics of cell lines from metastatic melanomas have been extensively studied but less is known about cells from the biologically earliest stage of primary melanoma. The overall success rate of establishing permanent cell lines from such lesions is only 10% of that for biologically late primary or metastatic melanomas, although our laboratory now has eight cell lines available. The cells are immortal but show reduced or no proliferation in soft agar and immunodeficient mice when compared with primary melanomas from the biologically advanced vertical growth phase. Metastatic melanoma cell lines from patients with familial melanoma or xeroderma pigmentosum are biologically similar to those from patients with spontaneous melanomas. Irrespective of the malignant stages, deletions and mutations can occur in exons 1-3 of the p16INK4A gene. DNA fingerprinting was then employed to demonstrate the uniqueness of individual cell lines and to confirm the identity of cell lines derived from same patients. These cell lines are an excellent resource to investigate melanoma progression.