Malignant brain tumors are characterized by extensive tumor-cell infiltration into the normal brain tissue. The present work describes the migratory behavior of human glioma cells transplanted into the adult rat brain with the aim of exploiting the extent of active cell migration and passive cell displacement within the central nervous system. To detect every transplanted tumor cell, a stably bacterial β-galactosidase (loc-z) transfected human glioma cell line was used. To distinguish between an active cell migration process and passive cell displacement, rat brains were also implanted with inert fluorescent polystyrene microspheres and the distribution of tumor cells and micro- spheres was studied 1 hr and 3 days after implantation. One hour after implantation the tumor cells were strictly localized at the implantation site. However, 3 days after implantation, both tumor cells and microspheres showed an extensive distribution within the brain. Confirming earlier neuropathological and experimental studies, it is shown that the loc-z-transfected glioma cells had the capacity to move within the Virchow-Robin and subarachnoid spaces. However, since fluorescent micro-spheres were also found in these areas, this spread of tumor cells may be primarily mediated by the extensive cerebrospinal fluid flow that exists within the brain. Three days after implantation, the glioma cells also showed an active migration over the corpus callosum. In comparison, the fluorescent microspheres showed only limited spread along the callosal body. It is concluded that the bacterial lac-z gene can be stably transfected into human glioma cells and, since every tumor cell can be visualized within the brain, this model provides a tool for studying the mechanisms behind tumor-cell invasion of the brain. © 1995 Wiley-Liss, Inc.