For the advanced study of the cell and molecular biology of middle ear mucosa, an in vitro cell culture system is required. Although middle ear epithelial cells have been cultured from various species of laboratory animal, there have been no reports concerning a serial subculture system of human middle ear epithelial cells. In this paper, we describe the establishment of a primary culture system of human middle ear epithelial cells using a serum-free conditioned medium and the characterization of these cells by the expression of phenotypic characteristics of epithelial cells and mucin genes. Cultured cells were anchorage-dependent in terms of growth and showed a polygonal cobblestone-like appearance: desmosomes in the cell junction were observed by electron microscopy. In the immunocytochemical study, cytokeratin (epithelial cell marker) was expressed in all cultured cells. but von Willebrand factor (endothelial cell marker) was not. Unexpectedly, vimentin (fibroblast marker) was locally expressed, and a double stain showed the co-expression of both cytokeratin and vimentin in the same cell. The products of reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction from cultured cells yielded distinct bands compatible with the expected sizes of the MUC1, MUC2, MUC5AC and MUC5B genes. This culture system will allow us to prepare the cell line and to perform advanced studies of human middle ear mucosal biology.