One of the main obstacles encountered when trying to culture human seminoma (SE) cells in vitro is massive degeneration of the tumour cells. We investigated whether dissociation of tumour tissue, to obtain single-cell suspensions for in vitro culture, results in the onset of apoptosis. Using morphological analysis and in situ end labelling, less than 4% of apoptotic tumour cells were detected in intact tissue from 11 out of 14 SEs. In these 11 tumours, apoptosis-specific DNA ladders, indicative of internucleosomal double-strand DNA cleavage, were not detected on electrophoresis gels. In contrast, three SEs with over 12% of apoptotic tumour cells in the intact tissue and all analysed (pure) SE cell suspensions, obtained after mechanical dissociation of intact tumour tissue, showed DNA ladders. Flow cytometric analysis of end labelled SE suspensions showed DNA breaks in up to 85% of the tumour cells. As indicated by cell morphology and DNA degradation, SE cells appear to rapidly enter the apoptotic pathway upon mechanical disruption of their microenvironment. No expression of p53 and of the apoptosis-inhibitor bcl-2 was detectable in intact SE tissue or cell suspensions. Our data suggest that abrogation of apoptosis might be crucial to succeed in culturing human SE cells in vitro.