The major form of autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) results from mutation of a gene (PKD1) of unknown function that is essential for the later stages of renal tubular differentiation. In this report, we describe a novel cell culture system for studying how PKD1 regulates this process. We show that expression of human PKD1 in MDCK cells slows their growth and protects them from programmed cell death. MDCK cells expressing PKD1 also spontaneously form branching tubules while control cells form simple cysts. Increased cell proliferation and apoptosis have been implicated in the pathogenesis of cystic diseases. Our study suggests that PKD1 may function to regulate both pathways, allowing cells to enter a differentiation pathway that results in tubule formation.