The histogenesis of malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH) is controversial. To elucidate the cellular origin and characteristics of this neoplasm, the authors analyzed cell lines grown from 17 patients (15 soft tissue MFH and 2 bone MFH) by using light and electron microscopy, immunocytochemistry, enzyme cytochemistry, and functional tests for receptors for the Fc portion of immunoglobulin (Fc receptors) and immunophagocytosis. Each culture exhibited a storiform/pleomorphic pattern with mixed cellular populations consisting of spindle cells, polygonal cells, and bizarre giant cells; these morphologic features corresponded to the histologio characteristics of the primary tumors. The cells in each MFH line displayed histiocytic functional markers such as lysosomal enzymes, Fc receptors, and immunophagocytosis. However, these cells differed from monocyte-derived macrophages (histiocytes) in immunoreactivity; the MFH cells expressed a mesenchymal antigen (FU3) distributed among perivascular cells and fibroblasts but demonstrated no positive reactions with Leu-M1 (CD15) and Leu-M3 (CD14), which recognize the cells of the monocyte-macrophage lineage. In conclusion, these findings suggest that MFH is not a tumor of true histiocytes but of facultative histiocytes showing mesenchymal differentiation in vitro. Chromosomal analysis performed in one MFH line demonstrated abnormal karyotypes; the modal chromosome number was 58, with 5 marker chromosomes.