The L-428 cell line derived from nodular sclerosing Hodgkin's disease was verified to be a human female cell line with surface marker and morphologic characteristics similar to native Hodgkin's cells. Single cells were cloned and subcloned twice to determine the characteristics of the clonogenic L-428 Hodgkin's cell (resulting in a 10% cloning efficiency). Both mononuclear L-428 cells and classical Reed-Sternberg cells arose from solitary cells. The clonogenic cell was the mononuclear Hodgkin's cell, although small abortive colonies sometimes arose from classical binucleate Reed-Sternberg cells. Cytogenetic and phenotypic analysis supported the clonality of three subclones and indicated, among many findings, consistent abnormalities of the long arm of chromosome 7 (beta-chain of the T cell receptor) and 14q32 (Ig heavy chain). Distinctive abnormalities of cytogenetics, phenotyping and transforming growth factor-beta production were exhibited for each clone as well. These observations demonstrate the relationship of the continuum of malignant mononuclear and multinuclear Reed-Sternberg cells in this cell culture from nodular sclerosing Hodgkin's disease and suggest that a similar relationship exists in native Hodgkin's disease tissue. These observations also support the theory of clonality in Hodgkin's disease and suggest that in vivo contiguous metastasis in the L-428 Hodgkin's disease patient was most likely accomplished by a Ki-1 positive small mononuclear cell.