Experimental pathologic studies suggest that Clara cells are one of the types of airway stem cells but the proliferation of Clara cells in human lungs has not yet been examined. The purpose of this study was to assess in conducting airways of normal human lungs: (1) the number of Clara cells; and (2) the contribution of Clara cells to the proliferation compartment. Samples of histologic normal tissue were taken from seven lungs obtained by autopsy. A triple sequential (immuno)histochemical staining was performed, using MIB-1 as a proliferation marker and anti-CC10 for the identification of Clara cells; subsequently, a PAS stain was carried out as a marker for goblet cells, as these cells were reported to be CC10-immunoreactive in an unknown proportion. Clara cells were virtually absent in the proximal airway epithelium. The number of Clara cells in the terminal bronchioles was 11 +/- 3% (mean +/- SD) and in respiratory bronchioles 22 +/- 5%. The overall proliferation compartment of the conducting airway epithelium was 0.83 +/- 0.47%; the contribution of Clara cells was 9%. In the terminal bronchioles 15% of proliferating airway epithelial cells were Clara cells, and in the respiratory bronchioles this number increased to 44%. The contribution of Clara cells to the proliferation compartment of normal human tracheobronchial epithelium is substantial, demonstrating a role of the Clara cell in the maintenance of the normal epithelium of the distal conducting airways in humans.