Flow cytometric techniques were used to characterize multiple human uterine sarcomas and cell lines derived from some of these tumors. Analysis of DNA content showed that 9 of the 11 uterine sarcomas investigated were composed of at least one aneuploid population as well as a distinct diploid population. These data indicate that aneuploidy, as measured by flow cytometry, is a characteristic more common to uterine sarcomas than that previously reported for uterine adenocarcinomas. Unlike the original tumors, the cell lines established from three of the sarcomas contained predominantly diploid populations with only minor aneuploid populations. Treatment of one of the sarcoma cultures with tumor promoters did not result in an increase in the aneuploid populations. Tumors which arose in nude mice upon transplantation of two of the sarcomas did not contain the same distribution of tumor subpopulations as found in the original sarcomas. Apparently, the in vitro culture and the in vivo nude mouse conditions were not appropriate for maintaining the original equilibrium between the aneuploid and diploid subpopulations but instead provided a selective environment that resulted in the preferential growth of only certain tumor populations. Dual-parameter analysis of DNA content and alkaline phosphatase levels of one of the sarcomas were useful for distinguishing the aneuploid from the diploid population coexisting in this tumor. Our data suggest that flow cytometry is a valuable tool to analyze the characteristics of the tumor populations residing in primary uterine sarcomas as well as to determine which of these tumor subpopulations survive in culture and transplantation to nude mice. © 1987, American Association for Cancer Research. All rights reserved.