The clinical diagnosis of cervical neoplasia by spectroscopic methods is potentially a reliable, fast and cost-effective alternative to the conventional smear test. However, it is currently limited by significant inter-patient variation in the spectroscopic properties of the cervix. Characterisation of suitable in vitro models of the spectroscopic changes that take place during neoplastic progression may prove to be a significant step towards the successful development of reliable in vivo systems. In this study, we used organotypic epithelial raft culture as an in vitro model of cervical tissue to analyse changes in the fluorescence properties of surface squamous epithelium that are associated with the development of neoplastic disease. Collagen plugs lined by primary human keratinocytes (PHKs) were used to model the normal cervical epithelium, and plugs lined by cells of the SiHa line were used as a model of neoplastic cervical tissue. Fluorescence emission spectra of these rafts were recorded at excitation wavelengths in the 250–330 nm range, complementing previous work published at longer wavelengths. Normalised, truncated emission spectra were analysed using multivariate principal component analysis. We successfully distinguished between in vitro models of normal and neoplastic cervical tissue and demonstrated a differential effect of acetic acid, which enhances the discrimination of normal from neoplastic tissue. Identification of these differences between in vitro organotypic epithelial rafts may ultimately aid the discrimination of cervical lesions in vivo. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.