A simian virus 40 (SV40) DNA fragment, encompassing the whole early region but having a defective origin of DNA replication, was previously used to transform human fibroblast cells derived from a patient suffering from xeroderma pigmentosum complementation group C (XP-C). Two independent SV40 transformants had acquired immortality in culture. Unlike most SV40-transformed human fibroblasts, the two established XP-C cell lines possessed an identical hypodiploid karyotype of 44,XX,-19,Xq+,-22,15p+. We now show that prior to immortalization the two SV40 transformants display a very wide spectrum of karyotypes with regard to chromosome number. A similar variety of chromosomal complements is present in four independent mortal SV40 transformants of the same parental XP-C cell line as well as in a mortal SV40-transformed xeroderma pigmentosum group D cell line. The rarity of the immortalization event, coupled with the coincident occurrence of identical karyotypes in the two immortal cell lines, suggests that the immortal lines arose through selection of a peculiar karyotype from among those of the parent SV40-transformed fibroblasts, and that this peculiar hypodiploid karyotype may be related to, and perhaps even necessary for, the establishment of immortality.