It is controversial whether the membranous (M) cells of the Peyer's patches represent a separate cell line or develop from enterocytes under the influence of lymphocytes on the domes. To answer this question, the crypts that produce the dome epithelial cells were studied and the distribution of M cells over the domes was determined in mice. The Ulex europaeus agglutinin was used to detect M cells in mouse Peyer's patches. Confocal microscopy with lectin-gold labeling on ultrathin sections, scanning electron microscopy, and laminin immuno-histochemistry were combined to characterize the cellular composition and the structure of the dome-associated crypts and the dome epithelium. In addition, the sites of lymphocyte invasion into the dome epithelium were studied after removal of the epithelium using scanning electron microscopy. The domes of Peyer's patches were supplied with epithelial cells that derived from two types of crypt: specialized dome-associated crypts and ordinary crypts differing not only in shape, size, and cellular composition but also in the presence of M cell precursors. When epithelial cells derived from ordinary crypts entered the domes, they formed converging radial strips devoid of M cells. In contrast to the M cells, the sites where lymphocytes invaded the dome epithelium were not arranged in radial strips, but randomly distributed over the domes. M cell development is restricted to specialized dome-associated crypts. Only dome epithelial cells that derive from these specialized crypts differentiate into M cells. It is concluded that M cells represent a separate cell line that is induced in the dome-associated crypts by still unknown, probably diffusible lymphoid factors.