Explant cultures were started from human papillomavirus (HPV)-infected genital lesions in order to isolate and propagate abnormally differentiating cells from squamous intraepithelial neoplasia. A medium with high calcium concentration was used to induce terminal differentiation of cells from surrounding normal epithelium. Two cell lines with extended life-spans were established. The UT-DEC-I cell line was derived from an HPV-33-positive mild vaginal dysplasia (VAIN I). In cultured UT-DEC-I cells, HPV 33 DNA was detected with Southern-blot hybridization and the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique. The restriction pattern of HPV 33 changed during early passages and flow cytometric analysis detected a decrease in chromosomal DNA content. HPV 33 RNA from the E6-E7 region could be amplified by PCR at late passage. UT-DEC-2 cell line was derived from an HPV-16-positive moderate vaginal dysplasia (VAIN II). HPV 16 DNA was also detected in cultured cells by the PCR technique. The senescence of normal keratinocytes and growth selection in favor of aneuploid cells was observed by flow cytometric analysis at subsequent passages. Karyotype analysis showed clonal chromosomal abnormalities in both cell lines. To date, UT-DEC-1 cells have undergone 40 and UT-DEC-2 cells 25 passages. This study shows that the isolation of HPV-infected dysplastic cells can be achieved by culturing the cells in a medium with high calcium concentration. The cell lines presented provide the opportunity of evaluating the early stages of squamous-cell carcinogenesis. © 1992 Wiley-Liss, Inc.