The present study aimed to identify the molecular pathological changes of the nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) epithelial CNE3 cell line, which has been used in experimental studies for 20 years in a culture environment. The pathological type of NPC and the presence of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) were identified. CNE3 short tandem repeats (STRs) were amplified, analyzed and compared using metastatic carcinoma tissue from primary NPC. Immunohistochemistry (IHC) and in situ hybridization (ISH) were used to identify the immunophenotype and EBV-encoded small RNA (EBER) expression in nude mice transplanted CNE3 tumor cells. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and DNA sequencing were used to identify the EBV oncogene, BamH1-A right frame 1 (BARF1) and electron microscopy was used to analyze the organization of the ultrastructure. CNE3 was not cross-contaminated by other human cell lines and the EBV was no longer present in the CNE3 cells. The pathological type of CNE3 was transformed from an undifferentiated non-keratinizing carcinoma with focal adenocarcinoma differentiation into a poorly-differentiated adenocarcinoma. In conclusion, this knowledge on the molecular pathological changes of CNE3 may aid in the development of new research approaches for NPC.