The osteopetrotic (op/op) mutant mouse possesses an inactivating mutation in the colony-stimulating factor-1 (CSF-1) gene, which results in the absence of certain macrophages and in osteopetrosis, following a lack of osteoclasts. Studies of the op/op mouse indicate that CSF-1-dependent tissue macrophages may belong to a trophic and/or scavenger subpopulation, which through their effect on other cell types can significantly affect tissue functions, and that cells which are CSF-1 independent have antigen presentation and immunological functions. We have previously identified a cell system of regularly distributed macrophages in the muscularis externa of the small intestine and wanted to extend these studies to the op/op mouse. The present investigations with light- and electron-microscopic methods using fluorescent dextran, methylene blue and immunohistochemistry (F4/80, anti-kit receptor, anti-CD3, anti-CD45R/B220) show that macrophages are absent from the muscle layers, with only an occasional macrophage present in the subserosa. In the lamina propria and submucosa, macrophage numbers are reduced. In all other respects the muscularis externa appears normal, including normal organization and number of interstitial cells of Cajal. Control and op/op mice both lack cells expressing CD3 (T lymphocytes), CD45R/B220 (B lymphocytes) and mast cells in the muscularis externa. This leaves the muscularis externa macrophages as the most likely source of local cytokine production under such conditions as postoperative ileus and intussusception in infants, where the muscularis externa appears to be one target of cytokines. We conclude that the lack of macrophages, combined with the preservation of otherwise normal structure, will make the op/op mouse a valuable model by which to assess the functions and relative importance of the muscularis externa macrophages in relation to intestinal motility under normal and pathological conditions.