We describe the isolation and characterization of an immortal cell line derived by infection of rat neural crest cells with a v-myc-containing replication-defective retrovirus. This clonal cell line, called NCM-1, contains a majority cell population with antigenic and morphologic properties that suggest it may represent a peripheral glial progenitor. In conditioned or in serum-free medium, these NGF receptor-positive cells differentiate to an elongated, bipolar morphology resembling that of primary Schwann cells. This morphologic differentiation is prevented by TGF-beta 1, which also acts as a mitogen for the cells. The NCM-1 line is also able to generate clonal derivatives which have extinguished expression of most or all glial markers. Once generated, such cells are stable and do not revert to the glial phenotype. At least some of these cells have acquired sympathoadrenal progenitor-like properties, as shown by their capacity to coexpress tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) and neurofilament (NF) in response to basic FGF and dexamethasone. These data imply that the NCM-1 line contains self-renewing cells with the potential to generate precursors in at least two of the sublineages that normally develop from the neural crest. This in turn suggests that the process of immortalization may preserve at least some of the developmental properties characteristic of multipotential neural crest cells. NCM-1 cells may prove useful for the study of neural crest cell lineage segregation, Schwann cell differentiation, and the mechanisms controlling the initial induction of TH and NF gene expression.