NTera 2/cl.D1 (NT2) cells, a human teratocarcinoma cell line, were manipulated following retinoic acid treatment to yield greater than 95% pure cultures of neuronal cells (NT2-N cells). The commitment of NT2-N cells to a stable neuronal phenotype is irreversible as judged by the lack of mitotic activity or phenotypic reversion over a period of 2 months in culture. Furthermore, NT2-N cells express a variety of neuronal markers including many neuronal cytoskeletal proteins, secretory markers, and surface markers. NT2-N cells resemble primary neuronal cultures from rodents morphologically and in density of process outgrowth and, like primary neurons, go on to elaborate processes that differentiate into axons and dendrites. This culture method yields sufficient highly differentiated postmitotic NT2-N cells for both biochemical and molecular biological studies. Indeed, when undifferentiated NT2 cells were stably transfected with a beta- galactosidase (beta-gal) expression plasmid, beta-gal expression was shown to be present in both undifferentiated NT2 and postmitotic NT2-N cells. Thus, the ability to transfect expression plasmids into undifferentiated NT2 cells will allow the introduction of normal and mutant gene products into cells that can then be induced to become stable, postmitotic human neurons. We conclude that NT2 cells and NT2-N cells represent a unique model system for studies of human neurons, and a novel vehicle for the expression of diverse gene products in terminally differentiated polarized neurons.