The long-term potential to routinely use replacement β cells/islets as cell therapy for type 1 diabetes relies on our ability to culture such cells/islets, in vitro, while maintaining their functional status. Previous β cell studies, by ourselves and other researchers, have indicated that the glucose-stimulated insulin secretion (GSIS) phenotype is relatively unstable, in long-term culture. This study aimed to investigate phenotypic and gene expression changes associated with this loss of GSIS, using the MIN-6 cell line as model. Phenotypic diffierences between MIN-6(L, low passage) and MIN-6(H, high passage) were determined by ELISA (assessing GSIS and cellular (pro)insulin content), proliferation assays, phase contrast light microscopy and analysis of alkaline phosphatase expression. Differential mRNA expression was investigated using microarray, bioinformatics and real-time PCR technologies. Long-term culture was found to be associated with many phenotypic changes, including changes in growth rate and cellular morphology, as well as loss of GSIS. Microarray analyses indicate expression of many mRNAs, including many involved in regulated secretion, adhesion and proliferation, to be significantly affected by passaging/long-term culture. Loss/reduced levels, in high passage cells, of certain transcripts associated with the mature β cell, together with increased levels of neuron/glia-associated mRNAs, suggest that, with time in culture, MIN-6 cells may revert to an early (possibly multi-potential), poorly differentiated, 'precursor-like' cell type. This observation is supported by increased expression of the stem cell marker, alkaline phosphatase.