Estrogen-induced Syrian hamster kidney tumors (SHKT) are widely used as experimental models for the study of hormonal and renal carcinogenesis. In order to characterize the direction of differentiation of SHKT, kidney sections of diethylstilbestrol (DES)-treated hamsters (1-11 months) were analyzed by immunohistochemistry using a panel of lineage-specific markers. The first tumorous buds found in animals exposed to DES for 4-6 months exhibited prominent S100, Leu-7, and vimentin immunoreactivities. Immunopositivities for neuron-specific enolase, PGP 9.5, desmin, and glial fibrillary acidic protein were mostly detected in medium-sized and large tumors after prolonged exposure to DES (> 6 months). All neoplasms, irrespective of the size and the duration of treatment, appeared negative for cytokeratin, neurofilaments, synaptophysin, and CD99 antibodies. Western blotting confirmed to a large extent the immunohistochemical observations. The systematic analysis of serial kidney sections by confocal microscopy after double immunostaining for S100 and neurofilaments revealed that early neoplastic buds could stem from S100-positive cells associated with nerves bundles. Altogether, these observations suggest that DES-induced SHKT could be related to malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor and originate from a yet unidentified precursor cell present in the sheath of peripheral nerves.