Evaluation of the role of clonal heterogeneity in colon tumour sensitivity/resistance to drugs and/or in conferring metastatic potential requires an adequate experimental model in which the tumour cells maintain the initial genetic alterations and intra-tumoral heterogeneity through maintenance of the genetic clones present in the initial tumour. Therefore, we xenografted subcutaneously into nude mice seven human colonic tumours (from stages B1 to D) that showed chromosome instability and transplanted them sequentially for up to 14 passages. Maintenance after xenografting of the genetic alterations present in the initial tumours was scored by allelotype studies targeting 45 loci localized on 18 chromosomes. We show that xenografting does not alter the genetic or the histological profiles of the tumours even after 14 passages. Screening of the entire genome of one tumour by comparative genome hybridization also showed overall stability of the alterations between the initial and the xenografted tumour. In addition, intra-tumoral heterogeneity was maintained over time, suggesting that no clonal selection occurred in the nude mice. The observation that some loci showed partial allelic imbalance in the initial tumour but loss of heterozygosity after the first passage in nude mice when all the normal cells were lost may allow identification of interesting genetic defects that could be involved in tumour expansion. Thus, sequential xenografts of colon tumours will provide a powerful model for further study of tumour clonality and for the identification of genetic profiles responsible for differential resistance to therapeutic treatments. Our data also suggest that tumour expansion can result from alterations in several distinct genetic pathways. Copyright © 2006 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.