Genomic amplification of the oncogene N-myc is associated with rapid tumor progression and poor prognosis in patients with neuroblastoma (NB). However, 40% of NBs which lack N-myc amplification are also clinically aggressive. Factors other than N-myc copy number must therefore play a role in determining tumor progression in these NBs. We have established an unusual human NB cell line (NBL-S) from the primary tumor of a patient with rapidly progressive disease which lacks N-myc amplification. The doubling time in vitro (48 h) and the time from injection of 2 x 10(7) cells to detectable tumors in nude mice (46 days) in similar to NB cell lines with amplified N-myc. However, karyotype analysis reveals no evidence of double minutes (DMs), homogeneously staining regions (HSRs), or chromosome 1p deletions, features commonly seen in NB cell lines. The cells have the cell surface phenotype typical of N-myc amplified NB (HLA-A,B,C negative and HSAN 1.2 positive), and similar to other NB cell lines, N-myc RNA and protein are expressed. Interestingly, the half-life of the N-myc protein in NBL-S is prolonged (approximately 100 min) compared to the short N-myc protein half-life previously described in N-myc amplified NB cell lines (approximately 30 min). Because N-myc protein is thought to have a regulatory role, prolongation of the half-life of this protein may be an important factor in the regulation of growth in NBs which lack N-myc amplification and rapidly progress.