In this report we identify two cultured human primitive neuroepithelioma cell lines that express cholecystokinin (CCK) RNA and synthesize substantial amounts of pro-CCK, but differ in their ability to process the prohormone. Seven cultured human neural tumor lines, including two primitive neuroepitheliomas and five neuroblastomas, were screened for CCK gene expression using a CCK C-terminal RIA system, a RIA specific for the carboxy-terminal extension of prepro-CCK, and RNAse protection assays specific for CCK mRNA. RNA derived from the two primitive neuroepitheliomas yielded strong hybridization signals with CCK-specific probes. The five other neuronal tumors were negative for CCK mRNA. The two primitive neuroepitheliomas also synthesized substantial quantities of material reactive in the CCK carboxy-terminal extension RIA system. One of the tumors, Sk-N-Mc, postranslationally processed the CCK prohormonal material poorly, yielding only high mol wt CCK precursors and no immunoreactive CCK. The other, SK-PN-Dw, was able to process the prohormone, producing immunoreactive CCK-like material plus a peptide that immunochemically and chromatographically resembled the intact CCK C-terminal extension peptide. These cultured tumor lines should prove useful in furthering our understanding of the regulation of the CCK gene in human neuronal cells and will also provide an in vitro system for investigation of the posttranslational processing of the CCK preprohormone. In addition, the data demonstrate that screening procedures for examining peptide hormone expression by tumors are most comprehensive when specific molecular genetic probes are employed in addition to standard peptide assay methodology. Finally, these data suggest that CCK production may be a feature of some primitive neuroepitheliomas.